February 25, 2024

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A U.S. engineer has launched a paper outlining what he says is a low-cost, possible plan to show a big asteroid into an area station, full with synthetic gravity and sufficient room for 700,000 inhabitants.

In his paper Autonomous Restructuring of Asteroids into Rotating House Stations, area habitat researcher David W. Jensen walks by means of the steps wanted to create a functioning area station. The important thing to his plan: self-replicating robots, generally known as Von Neumann machines after the physicist and mathematician John Von Neumann, who helped popularize the idea.

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“Within the restructuring course of, we use robotics to utterly automate the constructing course of,” writes Jensen, a retired Technical Fellow at aerospace agency Rockwell Collins, and a one-time programmer at IBM. “Apart from a modest seed package deal of supplies, we use solely the majority materials of an asteroid to construct our station.”

In different phrases, ship a single spaceship with slightly beneath 10 metric tonnes of fabric – a base station and 4 self-replicating “spiders,” which may then use the uncooked materials of the asteroid itself to create extra of the identical.

Jensen’s plan has a little bit of a steampunk really feel to it, as he states: “The preliminary probe and seed packages are constructed with state-of-the-art twenty first century know-how. The supplies, instruments, automobiles and automata produced on the asteroid might be extra like 18th and nineteenth century know-how … like shovels, plows, wagons, trusses, and bridges.” Filling the hole within the timeline is the rocket required to get there, a stalwart twentieth century know-how.

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The paper examines a number of shapes for the proposed station, together with dumbbell (two modules linked with a tether or truss), sphere, cylinder or torus. Regardless of the science-fictional attraction of a Loss of life Star-like sphere, Jensen concludes that the torus – consider the rotating area station in 2001: A House Odyssey – can be greatest. Rotation would supply synthetic gravity for these inside.

Which asteroid to make use of was additionally a consideration of Jensen’s paper. There are hundreds of thousands within the photo voltaic system, however he was capable of slender down the choice by winnowing out people who have been too far-off, too massive or too small, manufactured from the improper stuff, and so on.

The winner: 163693 Atira, a near-Earth asteroid found in 2003, and the primary identified instance of a uncommon group of asteroids whose orbits across the solar are totally inside that of the Earth. Atira is about 4.8 km in diameter, and has its personal satellite tv for pc, a minor-planet moon about one-fifth its measurement, orbiting about 6 km away.

Maybe probably the most enticing points of Jensen’s proposal are its price and timeline, which he estimates at simply $4.1 billion over 12 years, far lower than the price of the Artemis moon mission ($93 billion) or the sooner Apollo moon landings. “Our estimates are ‘back-of-the-envelope’ tough engineering estimates,” he admits, earlier than including modestly: “We hope that specialists may refine and decrease these estimates sooner or later.”

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The ensuing area station would have a billion sq. metres of flooring area, Jensen estimates, and have the ability to assist 700,000 individuals comfortably. Agricultural area on the station would price about $16,500 an acre, he writes, “little greater than the worth of an acre of fine Iowa farmland in 2022.”

What’s extra, he calculates that the price of a sq. foot of flooring area on the station can be round $40. This compares favourably to Toronto workplace area prices of about $60 per sq. foot within the monetary district, and between $30 and $40 within the suburbs. However, Atira’s orbit by no means brings it nearer than about 80 million km to Earth, so commuting prices can be significantly larger.