From the Space Settlement Contest Chief Judge
I have been running, and judging, the annual NASA Ames Student Space Settlement Contest since 1994. In this time I've learned a great deal about student submissions and I'd like to give you some advice. Warning: each judge makes their own decisions for their own reasons.
Spend some time reading the literature. Follow the links on the contest web page, Google "space settlement" and "space colony" and read what you find. Note that the NSS Space Settlement Library is the largest source of space settlement materials; use it. Most of these papers were not written for young students, but with enough time and determination you can understand them. First, if you don't understand a word, google it. If you are reading a paper and you are interested but are increasingly lost, start over from the beginning. You'll usually get further the second time or, if necessary, the third or fourth ...
Spend a lot of time discussing your entry. If you are in a team, talk to your team members. If you are doing an individual entry, talk to your parents, a teacher, your siblings, your friends, or anyone who is interested. In the course of these discussions you have a good chance of finding what interests you and what you have to contribute.
When you use someone else's idea, image or data, which will be most of what you do, be sure to reference the paper, book or web site you got the item from or, better, where it came from in the first place. For ideas and data, the reference should be right in the text and point to a list of references at the end. For images it should read "Image credit where-it-came-from." Note: references are not necessary for very well known ideas, for example, Newton's Laws.
As much as possible, create your own images and graphics.
When choosing a location for your settlement(s), think about where the materials will come from, where the energy will come from, and where the people you want to trade with will be.
Issues Often Ignored
If you, like most, are doing a space settlement engineering design, here are a few issues that are often ignored or overlooked. Consider adding a section on them, or perhaps building an entire entry around a thorough investigation of one.
- Thermal rejection. All settlements require energy, usually electricity derived from the Sun but sometimes nuclear. When used, this energy will turn into heat. If you keep adding heat to the settlement without getting rid of it, your settlement will get hotter and hotter until it is unlivable. Most spacecraft get rid of unwanted heat by radiating it into deep space using thermal radiators. Almost no entries address this issue.
- Rotational stability. Most settlement designs use rotation for pseudo-gravity. If the axis of rotation is not normal (90 degrees) to the axis of maximum angular inertia the rotational axis will be unstable. Small perturbations will cause the axis to wobble and eventually the settlement will rotate such that the moment of maximum angular inertia is normal to the axis of rotation. This can be controlled by active systems, but active systems can fail. For a discussion of how this affects settlement design see "The Kalpana One Orbital Space Settlement Revised," Al Globus, Ankur Bajoria, Nitin Arora, Joe Straut, April 2007.
- Recycling of solid waste. Many contest entries discuss recycling air and water, but the much harder (and disgusting) problem of solid waste recycling is seldom addressed.
- People will probably want to build more than one settlement. Is there some sequence of designs, starting small and getting bigger, that would make sense? How might groups of settlements form extended communities? How might one travel from one to another? How might you design one settlement to build more? What are the social issues that might surround a group of space settlements orbiting close to one another?
Alternative Types of Entries
Most of the entries we get are engineering designs, torus-shaped, and placed at L4 or L5; inspired by the NASA Ames/Stanford studies of the 1970s. Consider something different. Remember that your entry can be anything that has to do with free space settlement, not necessarily a design. Here are some ideas:
Note: if the topic you pick is not obviously part of space settlement, for example, a cubesat experiment, be sure to explain why your entry is relevant to free space settlements. Not all judges will have read this page!
- Think about how we can get from where we are now to building the first space settlement. Then create an entry on part or all of that path. Paths to Space Settlement suggests that space tourism, space solar power, and planetary defense are on the path to space settlement. Choose one or more of these and create an entry around it. For example, design a space hotel.
- There is a lot of space junk orbiting the Earth and threatening satellites, including future space settlements and hotels. Consider building an entry around handling that junk, or perhaps even using it to build something.
- Space settlements will need materials, how about an entry based on asteroid or lunar mining? How does the mine work, how will it get materials to space settlements, how can you process the materials?
- Find some problem associated with space settlement that no one has thought about, maybe some very small thing that has been overlooked, and solve it or thoroughly discuss it.
- We don't get a lot of literature entries. Consider writing a short (or long!) story or poem.
- What about holding an Olympics in space? How might it be different that today's Olympics? Similar? See the proposed Space Olympics Team Project for the International Space University.
- What other activities might be much different in free-space settlements? Dance, theater, ????
- What about the politics of free-space settlement development? How is that working? How might it work better? Is competition, cooperation, or some combination best?
- Consider physical experiments that might be important to space settlement. Ideally, conduct the experiment and write it up! If that is too difficult, then design the experiment and describe how it might be executed and how the results might contribute to space settlement. A few ideas:
- Space settlements will be relatively small, partially-closed life support environments. Consider doing experiments with closed systems like canning jars with various plants and small animals (probably insects or worms) in them. What is the best ratio of plants to animals? Do you need any animals? Can they survive in a sealed environment? Do they do better in sunlight or in shade? How long do they last? How can you measure the results of the experiment?
- How about a cubesat (Goggle it!) to conduct a space solar power test? Note: one group of students has done this, but there is still much more to do.
- How might you pluck boulders off an asteroid? Is there some way to test this on the ground?
- How might you process asteroidal or lunar material to extract useful products? Is there a way to test this on the ground?
- Build a robot designed to work in zero-g and test it underwater with small balloons attached to make it neutrally buoyant.
- Conduct experiments with teleoperated robots with an artificial delay added to the transmission delay to test teleoperation over cosmic distances.
- Develop and use software relevant to space settlement. Perhaps open source. ideas include:
As the entry itself must be hard copy, it could consist of a description of the software, a discussion of its relevance and importance, some screen shots and perhaps a printout of the source code.
- Write a computer program to simulate teleoperation of a robot in space or at a lunar or asteroidal mine. See how people do with more or less delay (for teleoperation from Earth to the Moon there is a three second speed-of-light delay).
- Develop a system to model and test space robots.
- Develop software to look at the asteroid data bases and find asteroids suitable for settlement purposes.
- Write a space settlement App for smart phones and tablets.
- Develop a game that takes place in a rotating environment.
- Consider what space settlement related businesses could be created today. Then either create one, which would be best, or write a business plan. Businesses might include:
For additional ideas, take a look at the 2012 NewSpace business plan competition.
- Space tourism related business, such as a theme park.
- A business to sell components or services to other space businesses needed for space settlement.
- Asteroid or lunar mining companies.
- Space robotics development.
- Make a YouTube video. You can't enter the video itself, but you can enter a paper document with stills from the video, a transcript and a discussion of the video.
- Write a survey paper on the current state-of-the-art in space settlement development. The NSS Space Settlement Library will have almost all the material you need.
- Conduct a poll, or several polls, on attitudes toward and knowledge about space settlement. Maybe a poll to see how many people might want to live in a space settlement, or what they would need to make them want to. There are a number of ways to do this online. Discuss the poll, why you asked what you asked, and analyze the results.
- Study settlement movements that have occurred on Earth and use what has happened to understand how space settlement might progress. Are there valuable lessons we can learn?
- Create a space settlement FAQ or web site. You can't enter the web site into the contest, but you can enter paper copies of the web site pages and a discussion of how the web site helps settle space.
- Start an online discussion about free-space settlements. Include a printout of the discussion. Analyze the discussion. What does it tell us about people? Space settlement?
- What about legal systems? Not just the legal system on a space settlement, but what about legal developments on Earth that might hurt or help space settlement? What laws currently apply in space? How do they relate to settlement?
- Some day there may be many space settlements in free space, perhaps thousands or even millions. What are the issues that arise with large numbers of settlements? What does this mean for transportation, trade, use of materials resources? What are the limits to free-space settlements in Earth orbit? In this solar system?
- How might free-space settlements travel to the nearest star? What could they do when they got there? Can free-space settlements spread throughout the galaxy? The universe?
- Suppose there were civilizations based on free space settlements around nearby stars. Could we detect them with current or near-term telescopes? If so, how?
- What are the relative roles of government, non-profits, and for-profit enterprises in space settlement? What should those roles be?
Author: Al Globus