Why Would Anyone Want to Visit a Space Village Anyway?!

The primary ‘export’ of a Space Village will be tourism. People will buy condos in the Space Village to rent them out to space tourists. But what will attract tourists to the Space Village in the first place?

Lots of things. The Space Village is designed to accommodate the following recreational activities for tourists:

  1. A simulated “mission to Mars” on the Mars-gravity level. Because the Space Village has differing levels of gravity, tourists can pretend to travel to a Mars base and perhaps have a day-long challenging mission there. It will feel like Mars because the gravity level will  be identical to Martian gravity. Obviously it will be way cheaper and less dangerous than actually going to Mars because it will be a lot closer. Think of it like a mini-Mars theme park.
Astronaut_working_on_Mars
Instead of a one-way trip to the real thing, come to the Space Village and spend a day on a simulated Mars.
  1. A simulated “mission to the Moon.” Same thing as above, but on a simulated Moon.
  2. Zero-gravity play time, both wet and dry. The center of the Space Village will host a long (probably 40 meters long and 10 meters in diameter), tube-shaped gymnasium that lacks gravity. This space can be flooded with water to create spherical zero-gravity pools and at other times it can be dried out for dancing, sports and theatrical performances.
  3. “Day trips” to other orbits for views of other parts of the Earth. Because the Space Village will be in an equatorial orbit it will never pass over some of the most interesting sites from space e.g. New York City, the Giza Pyramids, the Himalayas, etc. To get around this I propose the Space Village host small spacecraft that, on a regularly scheduled basis, will fly to other orbits and allow tourists to see parts of the world from other orbits. The spacecraft can have snacks aboard and will be an adventure in and of itself.
  4. “Fly a ‘star-fighter'” One could fly a drone through an obstacle course visible from the Space Village and destroy simulated targets. Just like in your favorite sci-fi combat space opera.
  5. Then, all the usual stuff you might find on a cruise ship: casino, gym, observation areas, etc. Except there might be a zero-gravity version of each type. Also, the crew can give tours of the mechanical spaces and farms, etc. and explain how the place operates.

All of these activities could be operated as concessions or they could be operated by the Space Village Company itself.  But the point is, having such a large, permanent, robust facility will allow for a great number of ambitious space tourism activities that in turn will attract a lot of visitors.

And all this ignores that even though tourism will be the primary export for the Space Village it will not be the only export. Having dozens of highly trained people in space will attract all sorts of other business to the Space Village: satellite repair and assembly, pharmaceutical research and maybe even really far out stuff like raw materials processing and refining.

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Motion Sickness and the Space Village Biz Plan

Building a village in space will require lots of R&D. We can attempt to commercialize the results of the R&D to generate revenue to sustain the business until space transportation makes direct construction of the space village feasible. An earlier post discussed indoor agriculture as one potential revenue stream. That, frankly, is the best idea I’ve had so far: it doesn’t require huge amounts of capex, there is a growing market for it, problems to solve, and I’ve already started working with someone in the field who has IP and some experience.

A second potential revenue stream involves an innovative way to treat motion sickness. Almost everyone suffers from motion sickness from time to time. It can be a real problem for regular business travelers or tourists preparing for a big trip (say, on a cruise ship). The solution most doctors recommend is either avoid the trigger (impossible in the examples above), take some medicine, or use a placebo device (like some kind of pill or some weird charm bracelet). These treatments may provide, at best, questionable and temporary relief. Turns out, though, there is a better solution.

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Motion sickness training underway.

I’m working on a book about space settlement with Al Globus (to be released in Spring 2018) and in it we discuss research by Dr. Pat Cowings at NASA’s Ames Research Center. In the mid-1990s Dr. Cowings and William Toscano developed autogenic feedback training exercises (AFTE) to control and minimize the impacts of motion sickness for Space Shuttle crews. Subjects underwent twelve 30-minute training sessions. The training involved visual and auditory  feedback as well as and verbal instructions from the trainer. The training sessions were in a rotating chair to induce a feeling of motion sickness. After these sessions – six hours in total – subjects reported far less severe motion sickness symptoms. These benefits were retained for three years after the training.  See the full NASA report here.

 

If these results could be repeated in the general population and the facility somehow commercialized and distributed to medical facilities (maybe even inside drug stores? or on cruise ships?) throughout the world, it could be a viable, and profitable, way to treat motion sickness.

There are even simpler potential treatments. Research in England hints that mild electrical impulses applied to the temple and scalp areas may reduce or eliminate motion sickness. This could be another way to commercialize motion sickness treatments.

What does all this have to do with space villages? Space villages will rotate to simulate

Faster Rotation Means Smaller Settlement Diameter
The smaller the settlement, the faster it must rotate to provide Earth-like gravity. 

the feeling of gravity. Unlike space stations, space villages will provide artificial gravity to aid in sanitation, agriculture and every day life. They will do this via rotation. The space village will be shaped like a donut or a cylinder and it will rotate around its central axis. As a result of centrifugal force caused by rotation, villagers and their stuff will ‘stick’ to the interior wall of the cylinder. Notably there will still be an area of zero gravity at the center of the settlement.

 

The trick, however, is that to make a space village reasonably small (not kilometers wide) and have Earth-like gravity (1g), it must rotate fairly fast – about 4 to 6 revolutions per minute. For comparison, a typical fairgrounds carousel rotates at about 4.3 revolutions per minute. Such a high rate of rotation might cause motion sickness in some villagers, at least for a few days.  While they will almost certainly adapt (per this other set of NASA research) it would be nice to at least offer future villagers a way to mitigate or eliminate any possible motion sickness. Hence the focus on motion sickness treatment.

Step 1 in the Space Village Biz Plan

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

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Source: Agrilyst

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.

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Credit: Bryce Meyer

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.

 

Space Village Biz Plan, While-U-Wait

It would be silly to begin construction on a space village today because of the high cost of space transportation. The cost to access space is just too high for both construction and regular back-and-forth travel.  Until space travel improves, this will remain true for all but the most lucrative in-space human activities.

GenesisI
Bigelow Aerospace launched their Genesis 1 commercial space station module in 2006. It has never been visited by a human crew.

This is why even very modest commercial space station proposals (even smaller than the International Space Station, with just five or six people aboard) have been stalled for years despite having proven construction methods. The best space station business will never work if you can’t get to your facility cheaply, safely and on a regular basis.

The good news is that there is plenty to do while humanity waits for the cost of space travel to fall (and it almost certainly will). Assembly of very large pressure vessels, closed-cycle life support and determining optimal gravity environments are just three major challenges that must be solved before a space village becomes economically feasible.

More good news: money can be made while solving these problems. This money can then be used to finance the construction of the space village once the transportation problem is solved. In fact, we don’t even have to go to space to make money.

The technology development challenges posed by space village construction are opportunities to solve other non-space related problems here on Earth. Thus, a dual-use technology commercialization program is proposed: the products and services developed under this business plan to solve space village problems can also be successfully marketed to solve problems on Earth.

– Closed-cycle agriculture

– Rotation tolerance training

Robotic assembly of large, simple structures

For example, closed-cycle agriculture required for space settlement will benefit the (fast-growing) terrestrial indoor agriculture industry. Rotation tolerance training useful for space settlement could reduce or eliminate nausea in those who suffer from motion sickness. Large-scale robotics construction in orbit will surely have benefits for various terrestrial industries like construction and manufacturing. These are just three ideas. There may be more. And this plan hopes to figure out what they are.

 

Table of Contents for the Space Village Biz Plan

Here are the posts I’d like to write over the coming weeks to flesh out the Space Village Business Plan (in addition to the two posts already written):

  1. Conceptual architecture of the first village in space: based on the Kalpana 56 meter/4RPM Globus design.
  2. Prerequisite to space settlement: cheap, reliable transportation to orbit. Cost per seat must be less than $100,000 or less. Ideally it will be “full fare economy.” Good news: this will likely happen.
  3. What we can do while we wait for number two above to happen i.e. the incremental path to settlement:
    1. Step 1 on the path (each of these will be at least one separate blog post): ground-based research and marketing of space farm-related products (I’ve already started this part – more to come on this)
    2. Step 2: Market motion sickness reduction training developed by NASA Ames
    3. Step 3: Send a scale model of the settlement to space, spin it around, see how it behaves. Develop wobble control software.
    4. Step 4: Once cargo prices to orbit fall significantly: assemble an uncrewed rotating ring in orbit that others can rent space on for robotic experiments. Uses wobble control developed in Step 3 as competitive advantage. Then, a big jump:
    5. Step 5: Assemble the zero-gee core of the settlement, sell tickets.
    6. Step 6. Assemble the lunar-gee level of the settlement, sell tickets.
    7. Step 7. Assemble the martian-gee level of the settlement, sell tickets.
    8. Step 8. Complete the settlement structure. Test. Then move in!
    9. Step 9. Start the next settlement…
  4. For each step describe what it is, the value proposition for each step, capital needed, expertise needed, competition and obstacles, and market demand. Might need a few posts for each step.
  5. Raising capital – propose pre-selling and crowdfunding as innovative ways to jumpstart the early stages of the business. Discuss financials of ‘Airbnb concept’ for full-up settlement (Step 9).
  6. Discuss need for diversity – why will this business be very explicit about the need to hire and inspire more than just white men (although they’re great too).
  7. Discuss philosophy to government funding – r&d, anchor tenant, etc.
  8. Call to action: we need good people!

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Kalpana 2 RPM Settlement Concept Interior. Credit: Bryan Versteeg.