In the quest for human colonization of space, scientists and engineers have long faced the challenge of building a large space station that could accommodate a significant number of people. The effects of low gravity on the human body and constant exposure to cosmic radiation are just two of the major problems that need to be solved. However, a bold new proposal has emerged that offers a potential solution to these problems: build a space station inside an asteroid and drive it into rotation.
This innovative approach comes from David W. Jensen, a retired Rockwell Collins technician. In a non-peer-reviewed paper posted on arXiv, Jensen lays out a detailed plan to turn the asteroid into a fully functional space station. The key to realizing this ambitious project lies in the use of self-replicating robots that will transform the asteroid into a habitable environment in just 12 years, at a cost of about $4.1 billion – a relatively modest sum given the scale of the project.
Selecting a suitable asteroid is a crucial first step in realizing this ambitious plan. Jensen chose the asteroid Atira as a suitable candidate. Atira is a near-Earth object that never crosses the orbit of our planet. It has a diameter of 4.8 kilometers (3 miles) and is composed mostly of rock. Remarkably, it even has its own moon, a smaller object about 1 km (0.6 miles) in size.
The proposed construction process involves using resources available on the asteroid itself. Jensen envisions using its materials to build everything needed for the space station, including solar panels and the station’s structure. The chosen design is a torus-shaped structure that resembles a donut. The doughnut-shaped outer edge of the station will provide protection from radiation and micrometeorites, while the layered interior will maximize habitability.
One major problem to be solved is the need to speed up the rotation of the asteroid. Currently, Atira makes one revolution in 3.4 hours, but to simulate near-Earth gravity inside the station, this rotation must be much faster. To accomplish this, the asteroid must make one revolution every 105 seconds, and its radius must be just over 2.1 kilometers (1.3 miles).
While the cost and timeline given by Jensen are approximate, they are based on an important aspect – using robots to build all the components of the space station from materials mined from the asteroid itself. This requires sending a group of robots capable of building living modules, solar panels, and other necessary components. The goal is to keep this group as small as possible, and once the task is completed, the robots can move to other asteroids, starting the restructuring process all over again.
The concept of creating a space station on an asteroid has been a dream of scientists since Konstantin Tsiolkovsky first proposed the idea in 1903. While many plans have proven unfeasible in the past, Jensen’s proposal represents a significant step toward what could potentially be accomplished.
“The idea of building a space station inside an asteroid is certainly intriguing. It represents a unique solution to the problem of long-term human habitation in space. While there are still many technical hurdles to overcome, Jensen’s proposal opens up promising avenues for further research and development in this area,” Dr. Elizabeth Howell, space historian and author of the