Building the first human village in space will require extensive research and development. These R&D activities can be commercialized and provide streams of revenue to sustain the business until in-space construction of the village becomes feasible. That is, when human space transportation is cheap, safe and frequent.
The first R&D activity to be considered is indoor agriculture. High-intensity indoor
agriculture is a fast-growing industry that generates more revenue per acre than conventional farming. Specifically, “indoor horticulture is about 4000 times more productive than conventional outdoor commodity farming.” However, indoor agriculture still requires lots of inputs: fertilizer, water and lots of lots of electricity. According to the report linked above, indoor farmers cite “keeping operating costs down” as their number one operational challenge. This represents an opportunity. If the Space Village Company (we’ll have to think of a better name eventually!) can offer products and services to help indoor farmers better control their operating costs it may see a steady stream of revenue.
Why would a Space Village Company perform R&D on indoor agriculture? Because villagers in space need to eat! And drink and breathe… What I mean is that because of their very large sizes and populations space villages cannot rely on traditional aerospace life support to sustain themselves. Today and in the past space stations relied exclusively on mechanical systems to clean the air and water. And all the food was and is shipped up on rockets, which is very expensive. Plus the food is not very good. Space villages will need to use self-regenerating biological infrastructure to provide robust, high-capacity life support systems as well as provide enough tasty food for the villagers to eat.
By improving on todays indoor agriculture technology and refining it for use in a space village, the Space Village Company will develop goods and services that can then be cycled back into the terrestrial indoor agriculture market to reduce operating costs for indoor farmers.
I’ve already started working with Bryce Meyer and his remarkable four-module space farm architecture to advance this idea. He’s already tested components of the farm at a workbench scale and the initial results are promising. Portions of his architecture could be used as more efficient CO2 generators in indoor farms, or as stand-alone production modules themselves (e.g. for algae production or aquaculture – see the nearby illustration of the aquaponics module). My goal in 2018 is to work with Bryce and others to obtain some grant funding or perhaps even private investment monies to construct an end-to-end demonstration farm using all four modules.