Monday, November 22, 2021

A space hotel problem, parking

I was recently thinking about space hotels.  I’m a space nerd who writes science fiction, so that’s just a Tuesday for me.  But I wondered what a basic space hotel would be like, so I designed one.  What I came up with has fifteen modules – basically the largest thing you can fit in a rocket faring – several of which would be nearly identical.  I’ll do my best to describe this three dimensional object.  You start with the core station which has seven modules arranged as a straight sided “8.” From the middle joints, there will be two modules sticking straight out and two sticking straight back.  These will have docking ports at the end and the modules themselves will be used mostly for storage.  Also from these middle joints will be two other modules to each side.  The outer most ones will have solar panels, while one of the inner ones will be the main control area and the other one will have an airlock and storage space for space suits.

Back to the core station.  The central module will be the galley/common area.  One side of the “8” will have the two guest quarter modules.  These will each have spaces for four cabins, which can be opened up into double cabins for couples.  These modules will also have a toilet, and maybe some exercise equipment.  One of the modules on the other side will be the crew quarters, with another toilet and more exercise equipment.  The other side module will have an area for some experiments, but will mainly be a play area, where the guests can play with Slinkies, globs of water, whatever.  Now the main draw of the station will be the two observation modules; one facing Earth while the other faces the stars.  In a fantasy world, these would be all glass, but in reality there would just be a series of meter in diameter windows.  There might be copulas that could be attached to give an even better experience.  In addition there would probably be a couple telescopes mounted on the outside to give better views of things.

The basic idea I had would be there would be a crew of four who would spend six months or so on the station.  They would take care of all the maintenance and unloading of supply ships, be tour guides, and lead in case of emergency.  Between guests, they could do minor experiments – like exposing various materials to space for a year or so to see how they degrade – to have an extra revenue stream.  The guests would come up for two week stays.  The idea I had would be that they would be staggered, so each guest batch would have five or six days where they are the only guests. 

At first, I thought the airlock would just be for the crew for maintenance, because I figured the training to be in a spacesuit goes more into the area of professional astronaut than tourist.  But then I remembered that tandem skydiving is a thing.  Basically, you’d have a two person, updated version of the Manned Maneuvering Unit that the crew astronaut would control, while the tourist sat in front of them.  The crew astronaut might fly ten meters or so from the station, then let the tourist fire the thrusters a few times before taking back control and going back to the station. 

Now a visit to such a station would be a fantastic experience and one I would gladly take.  But, there’s only so much you can do in a cramped station.  To develop games like zero-g football, or whatever, would require open spaces twenty, fifty, or more meters in diameter.  That’s well beyond the capability of a small hotel like I designed.  To have such spaces – as well as allowing the possibility of middle class people affording such a trip – would require large hotels with hundreds of guests.  But if it takes thirty or forty capsules to get the hundreds of guests to the hotel, where to you park them all?  Not to mention any redundancy for lifeboat situations. 

One lifeboat solution could be a premise I had which I could never hammer out into an actual story.  It was about the Ælling, which is Danish for duckling, a play on “The Ugly Duckling” story.  The Ælling was the first spaceship built in space from resources mined in space.  Basically, they mined iron from an asteroid and made several sheets a couple meters on a side.  These were welded together into a cube with a hatch on one side.  This was placed into a larger cube, and regolith was added in between to act as micrometeor protection.  The pilot – in a spacesuit – got inside, and using compressed gas thrusters stuck on the outside, moved away from the mining space station where this was built.  They flew a few kilometers away, turned around, and came back.  It was ugly, but it worked.  It was built just as a test of building spaceships in space, but larger versions could be used as lifeboats on space stations.  If something happened, a dozen or so people could get into one of these things that had supplies for a week or two.  It would float in orbit until a rescue ship could be launched to gather everyone.  So instead of needing return vehicles for the hundred or so guests, you could just have a bunch of these basic lifeboats stuck on the outside of your hotel. 

Or instead of lifeboats, you could have hardened storm cellars that would be modules scattered throughout the hotel structure.  These could hold a dozen or so people for a couple of weeks, and they’d be designed to survive the hotel breaking up.  Of course, then there’d be all this debris floating around them making recovery efforts difficult.

Or you could just have giant spaceships that could hold a hundred or so people, so you’d only need a couple docked to the hotel.  But then will the hotel be too big for people to get to them in an emergency?  If the hotel is depressurizing, you may only have a couple of minutes to maneuver your way through hundreds of meters of corridors to get to the docking ports.

Or I guess you could do all three options.  But do you really want to design your hotel to be half lifeboats and storm cellars?  It would probably be worse to tell your guests, “If something terrible happens, half of you will die.”

Just another level of complexity to add to the idea of space hotels.

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