Solar Power Satellites have long been seen as a key industrial application for space and, though their practical economics have been difficult to realize in the present, they will likely become a common fixture of space development across the Asgard phase, employing variations on the structural systems and technology of Modular Unmanned Orbital Factory - MUOF facilities. As space facilities of different kinds spread across the solar system, and particularly into deeper space, many will demand more energy than can be effectively produced locally from solar energy at their outer orbital locations. Many may rely on nuclear power but ultimately it will become necessary and practical to relay energy gathered from large dedicated energy systems closer to the sun in solar orbits These would use laser and maser relay beams to distribute their collected energy and, in some cases, advanced energy storage cells based on Nuclear Isomers -so-called ‘atomic batteries’ able to store five orders of magnitude greater energy than chemical batteries- charged and shipped about the solar system.
By the time of the Solarian phase, these may be common and vast in size and would potentially assume a new role with the emergence of Artificial General Intelligence; solar orbital counterparts of the RhiZome complex as host to colonies of artilects in Virtual Habitats. As we discussed in the earlier main article on the Solaria phase, we would hope that organic and inorganic humanity would colonize the stars together but that, over time, the line dividing the two will blur and the alternative existences offered by Transhumanism will become casual lifestyle choices without compromises or trade-off. No Little Mermaid’s dilemma, as this author puts it. So a prospect exists where the dominant form of spacefaring human being is an artilect and their most common habitat the Virtual Habitat. We will be discussing this further in an article on The Transhumanist Proposition, but for now we consider the possibility of the evolution of the solar power satellite into a likely home to, at the very least, a significant part of the spacefaring society.
We envision these habitats evolving through a number of forms but they would all tend to be variations on a common and remarkably simple organization. They would be a simple sandwich structure with solar collector array on the sun-facing side, radiator array on the opposite side, and arrays of data storage and processing systems in-between. The radiator side may feature a shallow corrugation or conical/pyramidal tiling to is array geometry, increasing its radiant area. Optical communications and power, materials distribution, and automated service channels would run in grids through the data systems arrays. Along the edges of the structure would be space for industrial processing, spacecraft docking and construction, and modest scale pressurized microgravity habitats for organic human beings. (though by the term ‘modest’ we could still be talking about structures on the scale of office buildings)
We call the earliest form of these habitats Solar Snowflakes because they would be a direct evolution of the MUOF and solar power satellites and may employ a similar modular construction scheme resulting in a fractal-like pattern of growth for the overall structures. Solar, radiator, data systems, and structural system would all be independent sets of prefabricated components following a simply tiling geometry -most-likely hexagonal.
The Sunflower is the NanoFoam equivalent of the Snowflake, the modular component system replaced by grown-in-place structure. This is an initial evolutionary form, where a higher density core structure sprouts vast radial solar and radiator petals that supplement the solar and radiator surface area of the core. This would be a likely form evolving from early spherical or capsule shaped NanoFoam spacecraft serving as the initial seed of a colony.
The Sundisc is the fully-grown result of the Sunflower; a simple disk of vast area where all the functional elements are grown and repaired in-situ and which evolves and grows along its peripheral edge. While the bulk of the structure would be of uniform composition, the edges would sprout a variety of nodules, hollow bays, petals, branches, and whiskers that serve a variety of functions such as pressurized habitats, materials processing, spacecraft docking and construction, sensors and communications. This may be the most common form for this habitat structure in the Solarian age and they become exceptionally vast in area -many hundreds of kilometers wide.
The Solar Ribbon is ultimate form of this habitat, grown so large -rivaling the diameters of planets- that they become a potential obstruction to solar insolation for habitats farther out along the ecliptic plane, and so instead of expanding further radially they begin to expand in a tapering oval shape along their orbital paths until they become long ribbons. Eventually these ribbons may join where they share common orbits and, given enough time, become a relatively slender (relative to their orbit) continuous ribbon ring encircling an entire solar orbit. This may be the start of what could evolve into what mathematician/scientist Robert Bradbury has dubbed a Matrioshka Brain; a data processing complex encircling an entire solar system like a Dyson Sphere. One can scarcely imagine the nature of the incredibly vast Virtual Habitats and artilect populations even one Solar Ribbon might be host to. A great and endlessly busy civilization invisible save for the vast yet simple structure in orbit living on sunlight and quietly tending to itself like a great plant.
- Life In Solaria
- Dyson Sphere
- Solarian Spacecraft
- Solaria Supporting Technologies