Asteroid settlement has often been suggested as the closest thing to ‘homesteading’ in the traditional sense that space development may offer. Marshal Savage himself used this very analogy in describing their exploitation and to draw a rough picture of lifestyle in this phase of development. This settlement would be predicated largely on the need for permanent facilities to assist asteroid mining and the local processing of their materials. Thus to understand how this type of settlement is likely to evolve we must begin with a brief look at how asteroid mining would be conducted. We will be discussing this in more detail later in the section on specific asteroid mining systems. For now it’s sufficient to consider major structures that will likely be employed and how these would form the basis of later habitable structure.
There are likely to be four waves of asteroid exploitation across the Asgard and Solaria phases. The first wave would be focused on the telerobotic gathering of space debris in the near-Earth system by relatively small spacecraft for processing at Earth orbital settlements. The second wave would employ large spacecraft serving as both mining systems, using relatively simple extraction/excavation systems, and transport with little equipment left behind. This may also be accompanied by attempts at whole relocation of smaller asteroids and would be mostly focused on near-Earth-objects objects and the inner asteroid belts. The third wave would be focused on the exploitation of progressively larger asteroids through the installation of permanent on-location facilities seeking to make asteroid mining more efficient by eliminating the transport of unwanted materials through local refinery. This is the phase likely to produce the fist permanent manned asteroid habitats. The fourth wave would be a return to the use of combined mining/transport vessels employing advanced nanotechnology based extraction and processing systems that would transform asteroids into self-transporting masses of highly refined materials. This wave would also see expansion of exploitation to the outer asteroids and, while asteroid settlement may continue, it would not be for the necessity of supporting any comprehensive refinery and mining facilities but simply for the creation of novel, perhaps more private, dwellings.
It is in the third wave of asteroid settlement that the employ of EvoHab technology would come into play as a means of transforming largely automated mining systems into habitable structures, just as MUOF facilities evolve into MOFs and then EvoHab habitats. Permanent mining systems would likely be an evolution of combined mining/transport vessels based on the ‘beamship’ architecture which we will describe later and which will be the common architecture for all spacecraft in the Asgard phase. Based on a primary truss ‘beam’, these mining facilities would be deployed whole as large spacecraft which travel to and ‘dock’ with their target asteroid and then bore into and through an axial core of the asteroid as they extract material, process it in MUOF facilities deployed on the exterior perimeter of the truss, and deliver it to transport spacecraft at docking facilities at the truss end. Mined from the inside-out, the waste material from processing would be stabilized and deposited on the exterior surface of the asteroid, slowly transforming the asteroid into a uniform spherical shell penetrated by an axial truss and eventually looking very much like any Asgard orbital habitat.
The excavation of an asteroid interior would first be conducted exclusively from the end of the initial mining vessel structure as it bores though the core of the asteroid and then out an opposite pole, the truss functioning rather like a modern-day tunnel-boring machine and using its interior to transport materials to refineries along its length. Once the asteroid has been completely penetrated, excavation would continue around the periphery of the truss structure creating multiple axial channels with their own truss branches and progressively larger hollow spaces in which manned habitats would be deployed as progressively larger pneumatic hull enclosures. Mining channels would be partially pressurized with an inert gas atmosphere as a means of managing dust –providing a ‘fluid’ medium with which particulate matter can be ‘swept’ from working areas. Channels left idle for excavation for some period would be pressurized with breathable atmospheres to serve as habitable space.
Over time the core of the asteroid would develop into a progressively large spherical volume intersected by branching trusses serving to transport material from active mining areas to the core truss and out to the refineries. This large volume may be pressurized whole or be used to host a succession of EvoHab-like hulls supported by space frame structures that host only pressure hull substrate panels –since the asteroid itself would provide shielding. This would become host to an urban tree habitat like that of the conventional EvoHab settlements, only the usual light transmitting hull strategy would be replaced by the use of artificial light and sunlight gathered by heliostat arrays on the primary external truss structure. Both the urban tree and the peripheral chamber walls would likely be employed together for habitation, gardening structures, and lighting structures, producing a more patchwork appearance to the virtual ‘sky’ of the habitat.
As the asteroid approaches its limit in mining utility, remaining resources would be reserved for local consumption and it’s smoothed and stabilized exterior would become host to an increasing variety of structures and its interior core truss relegated increasingly to the role of luminaire for a habitat organized more along the inner surface of the excavated asteroid core and assuming the form of small habitat trees and spires amidst a dense ‘forest’ of garden structures. Though still in many ways similar to the EvoHab settlements, the ultimate ‘hull’ of asteroid and stabilized wastes materials may be kilometers thick. If any artificial gravity structures are employed, they will likely be limited to the use of gravity deck systems since whole rotation of the asteroid may prove an impractical strategy given the lack of tensile strength in the mined-out structure.
Asteroid habitats may be some of the largest orbital habitats created in the Asgard phase though, ironically, they may also be the most sparsely inhabited, serving as pocket worlds for extended families and rather small tribes of people. Separated from the main branches of civilization by long travel times and high telecommunications latency, a very different more self-reliant culture is likely to arise among these inhabitants compared to that of the much more urban environments of strategically key orbital settlements. Founders of entrepreneurial mining ventures at Asgard colonies may seek to pursue this activity with the specific goal of producing rather personal habitats for themselves and their families –which is perhaps why Marshal Savage originally chose to describe this activity in a family based homesteading context. But much will depend on the sophistication of automation to support such small isolated populations. For some time such settlements may be much more precarious than their more urban counterparts. Outer asteroid belt settlements may never be numerous without the advent of robust nanotechnology and artificial intelligence as well advanced propulsion offering greatly improved inter-orbital transit speeds.
By the fourth wave of asteroid exploitation, there will be little functional need for human settlement to compliment mining activity –in fact, that need may always be somewhat small depending on the pace of advance in automation. Basically, if automation is sophisticated enough to support the full needs of such extremely remote and small populations, it’s probably sophisticated enough to conduct asteroid exploitation without any human intervention. Thus long term the pursuit of the asteroid settlement may be replaced with a strategy of targeting asteroids as the basis of specific settlement development, their materials content intended to be consumed whole and locally in the establishment and construction of a settlement of very specific design, rather than evolving from a mining facility relying on an export trade. These settlements may start with a targeted asteroid but completely transform it –and its neighbors– into another structure, perhaps with little to no human intervention until they are complete and ready to be moved into by a resident human population.
- Life In Asgard
- Modular Unmanned Orbital Laboratory - MUOL
- Modular Unmanned Orbital Factory - MUOF
- Manned Orbital Factory - MOF
- Asgard SE Upstation
- Inter-Orbital Way-Station
- Solar Power Satellite - SPS
- Beamship Concept
- Inter-Orbital Transport
- Cyclic Transport
- Special Mission Vessels
- Orbital Mining Systems
- The Ballistic Railway Network
- Deep Space Telemetry and Telecom Network - DST&TN
- Asgard Supporting Technologies