Saturday, October 4, 2014

Space Arena

Space Stations are one of the most expensive propositions in the private space industry. The only one in operation today is the ISS and it is estimated to have cost $150 billion in construction and occupation expenses. Certainly, the construction of the ISS is a poor example, especially when comparing to some technologies in the private sector. SpaceX is reducing cost of launching stations and Bigelow Aerospace is making stations simpler to build and deploy. But even so, constructing a "building" in orbit is not a cheap or easy proposition no matter how you look at it today.

The cost of a space stations is not all that surprising. After all it is something which has to provide all of the comforts of home (i.e. food, air, water) with none of the resources. It has to keep humans alive in one of the most inhospitable places for life that we know.

But does a space station really need to provide all of these resources in order to have value? What is a space station really for in the private space industry, as far as money-generating options?

A space station can be a place to rent space to companies to perform experiments in zero-g. It can become a space hotel to paying tourists. It can be a stop-over to someplace else.

These are all very viable industries once people gain a greater presence in space. But again, all of these "products" for a station to act as are incredibly expensive. Because they are meant to separate a person from the outside.

But if someone is going to go to space for the experience, they probably will not want to be separated from the outside by a cramped station or capsule. They will want to get the full benefit of the absence of gravity and the views of the planet and stars.

So why not build a station that doesn't protect anyone from the elements but instead just keeps them from getting lost. Build a station that is basically a giant cage.

Such a structure would basically be a Space Arena. A huge playing field where spacefarers can get the EVA experience without the safety hazards.

From a design standpoint it could be a huge geodetic structure which deploys to create a faceted sphere which is covered in a soft mesh that keeps things and people from floating away. Easy to build, deploy, and maintain. All of which decrease the cost of the station.

Instead of having to launch it in sections it could be launched in a single unit, perhaps on a Falcon Heavy, and then literally just sit there. Since it wouldn't require any complex life support systems those would not have to be maintained and since space has no other stresses than changes in temperature there is nothing to wear out the station structurally. And other resources such as the development of orbital tugboats become available, it wouldn't even be necessary to have much of an attitude control system.

With this kind of station all the travelers need is a spacesuit to keep them protected for the elements and a capsule to go sleep in. Both of which are already necessary for the trip. So why have a station which is a repeat of both of the other two just on another scale.

Since the permeable station is easier to construct and maintain is is easier to to make large. The size of such permeable stations allows them to be used by industries that have yet to consider space. The station could be used as a playing field for a space sport, creating a viable return and interest to people on Earth. It also gives a complete "space experience" to any tourists, much more effectively that a standard station. Just imagine the difference between seeing the curvature of the earth through a porthole and being able to have a panoramic view as you fly, un-tethered in the ether.

The experience and the low cost that such a "Space Arena" provides makes it a viable entry into the industry by many companies other than the standard aerospace and research firms. It is something that could be pursued by the entertainment or sports industry.

The business model for the company which owns the station could take any number of forms. If the station was built for space tourism it could be like a low cost motel. Travelers pay to use the space during the trip. If it is created to host space sporting events then it may pay for itself through the interest and entertainment value of the sport.

If you consider the Space Arena something akin to a stadium in orbit for sporting events it is actually much cheaper than earth-bound stadiums which run anywhere from $500 million into the billions. Whereas the cost to build and launch the Space arena would likely be only $150-200 million dollars. Still a huge gamble but it also has more utility and range of markets than a basketball stadium does.

The creation of a "Space Area" is something which really has very few technical hurdles. It is really a matter of "just doing it." The only things for a company or entrepreneur to consider with such a station is that it can increase the risk of a standard space excursion. Imagine someone in a space suit pushing off of one side of the sphere and then colliding hard with a structural member on the other side and perhaps over-straining their spacesuit causing it to rupture. Safety will be a huge concern for such a venture but materials and designs do exist which can help to mitigate most of these risks.

As far as space stations go the concept of a "Space Arena" or permeable space station are concepts which are relatively unexplored and potentially underestimated. They are a structure which can be easily and cheaply constructed and can be used to create a fantastic space experience both for those utilizing the station and to those on Earth, if it is used for televised sporting events.

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