The most numerous and multi-functional class of spacecraft likely in the Asgard phase, the Inter-Orbital Transport also represents the essential example of the Beamship Concept of spacecraft design. Designed solely for operation in the space environment, these vessels may be designed to dock with specific orbital facilities or –at their largest sizes- serviced by other smaller vehicles or long-reach telerobotic arms. These vessels would be teleoperated, fully automated, or manned –and often able to function alternately in all those modes. They would commonly be employed in two roles; inter-orbital ‘shuttles’ which move goods and people between LEO and GEO and different orbital locations around Earth and other bodies and inter-orbital ‘transports’ that carry goods and people between the major destinations in the solar system. Size and propulsion would tend to be the primary difference between these two application areas. Some may be dedicated to cargo carried on unpressurized pallets and containers, others to passengers, but most may ultimately employ some mix of both.
The basic inter-orbital shuttle would consist of a modest-length primary truss structure to which propulsion, solar and radiator panels, and communications systems would be attached at one end and payload at the other. Initially, simple rocket propulsion using ‘swappable’ fuel tanking modules is likely for spacecraft of the type but electrodynamic tether propulsion is likely to be the most practical in this role in Earth orbit. How that payload section would be outfit would vary with function. Simple unmanned teleoperated cargo pallet/container carriers would use quick-release end-to-end attachment of a single payload module.
For transfer schemes relying on large scale electrodynamic tether systems or ‘rotovators’ this payload module may be a whole smaller inter-orbital shuttle in its own right –since larger ‘rotovator’ systems would not be able to freely change their attitude and so would not be able to dock directly with space stations.
Larger more elaborate shuttles would follow the model of the MUOL, using a radial array of quick-release pallets on the exterior of the truss that may be serviced by a robot arm stowed on the exterior side of the vessel or inside the payload end of the truss.
Automated re-supply vessels employing fully automated docking would tend to internalize their cargo handling within the hollow space of the truss using a container stacking scheme designed for end-to-end docking and transfer, perhaps through a docking port hatchway. For manned station re-supply, these may employ a pressure hull for the cargo section akin to that used with MOF facilities, the exterior of the truss enclosed in modular shield panels.
Passenger shuttles would derive from the pressurized re-supply shuttle concept, using the same internalized pressure hull as both a passenger compartment and for light cargo handled manually. Hybrid designs combining this with external perimeter pallet cargo are also possible –creating vehicles that might look rather peculiar compared to typical visions of spacecraft but which would be easy to adapt to changing needs. As passenger support needs become greater internalized pressure hulls would give way to TransHab-style in-line hull modules where the primary truss structure passes though a larger pneumatic hull and is used as an attachment point for all internal fixtures. LEO to GEO transfers are often not particularly quick with the more cost-effective forms of transportation –such as use of electrodynamic tether propulsion– and so these vessels could become quite large in order to make travel as comfortable as possible for travelers. Eventually they might even employ EvoHab hull systems.
Long distance inter-orbital transports would essentially follow the same design strategy as the shuttles, but with long length truss structures and potentially very great sizes. By the time of Asgard, plasma based propulsion may be the norm for most long-distance treks about the solar system with some experimentation beginning with fusion systems deriving from the earlier plasma technology. Conventional rockets, however, may still be common for lunar transit. The basic variations in design would be the same as with the shuttles but longer and larger, unmanned vessels relying on quick-release pallet arrays or the use of internalized ‘stacked’ cargo transfer systems –though the latter may become much more sophisticated using technology derived from the more advanced MUOF and MOF facilities. Passenger vessels may become multi-branched structures integrating arrays of TransHab style modules after the example of the Valhalla habitats, or employ progressively larger cylindrical or spherical EvoHab hull systems with smaller versions of the urban tree habitats of the full scale Asgard colonies. Support even for gravity deck systems may be possible.
With the advent of fusion propulsion later in the Asgard phase, the need for some spacecraft to withstand one g or greater for very protracted acceleration/deceleration periods would lead to some changes in transport vessel design. Though more advanced materials based on nanofiber composites and diamondoids would likely also be available at this time, the tendency would be to employ more self-contained and compact structures that reduce the sheering loads on interfaces between components. More components and payloads would be internalized within the volume of the primary truss structure, increasing their number of attachment points so they don’t ‘cantilever’, and the employ of ‘deck’ compartmentalization for manned vehicles would be likely while external retrofits would become smaller, lighter, and more closely attached. The use of combination trusses with a corrugated array of channels would also be likely. The result would be vehicles that look progressively thinner, more minimalist, and streamlined by a greater –if not total– coverage by tightly fit external shield panels –not for the sake of any aerodynamics, of course, but rather to reduce the incidence and damage from small particle impacts at these much increased velocities. Some of these vessels might even be designed to physically transform for different modes of flight; employing a compact minimalist form under acceleration/deceleration but then unfolding into a more dispersed structure with additional deployable habitat space and communications structures when in a low velocity operation at some destination.
As nanotech fabrication methods become more robust over the Asgard phase components used on inter-orbital vessels will employ monolithic structures at progressively larger unit sizes. Eventually the scale limitations imposed on in-space fabrication by the issue of pressure hatch sizes will be overcome almost entirely by virtue of molecular ‘self-knitting’ interfaces between modular components. Used in late generation EvoHab hull systems where single piece components combine all the elements of frame, inner hull, and outer shield, these components would have the ability to knit together on a molecular level to create an effectively seamless monolithic connection and to un-knit that connection on demand. This will allow for the on-demand creation of fabrication enclosures of any size with no limit on the size and shape of hatchways formed into their structure. Eventually many smaller shuttle vehicles may be fabricated whole within such enclosures while larger vessels may be reduced to assemblages of a few rather large modules that themselves can knit-together along special interfaces into a monolithic whole.
Nanotechnology would also bring radical changes to the role of transportation about the solar system, reducing the demand for the transport of finished products in favor of refined materials in the form of NanoSoup and NanoAspic –which will be discussed in later articles on asteroid mining and the evolution of nanotechnology– and basing cargo and passenger transit on progressively more specialized vessels. In time most cargo vessels may become temporary, fully automated, and fabricated on demand simply to transport the solid mass of materials making up most of their structure and recycled whole at their destination by plugging into processing ports like gigantic ink sticks in a solid ink printer.
With the advent of NanoFoam, all spacecraft may become self-fabricating, self-adapting, and self-recycling on-demand and assume a variety of very minimalist shapes such as spheres and spheroids, cylinders, tubes, or toroids using largely monolithic architectures. Ironically, the spacecraft of the Solaria phase may, at least externally, bear more resemblance to Herge’s XFLR-7, the rockets in early Warner Bros. cartoons, Larry Niven’s Skydiver, and many of the anachronistic spacecraft of early 20th century science fiction –sans the fins– than the spacecraft we commonly see in media today, owing not to a functional need for streamlining but to the biomorphic nature of their nanotech-based auto-fabrication.
- Life In Asgard
- Modular Unmanned Orbital Laboratory - MUOL
- Modular Unmanned Orbital Factory - MUOF
- Manned Orbital Factory - MOF
- Asgard SE Upstation
- Asteroid Settlements
- Inter-Orbital Way-Station
- Solar Power Satellite - SPS
- Beamship Concept
- Cyclic Transport
- Special Mission Vessels
- Orbital Mining Systems
- The Ballistic Railway Network
- Deep Space Telemetry and Telecom Network - DST&TN
- Asgard Supporting Technologies