Here are rough initial sketches of three Non-Lunar Non-Terrestrial Material “Startup” scenarios. Their Key Metrics are: complexity, infrastructure, construction cost, time to initiate continuous (periodic) material stream to depot, reliability, maintenance cost, cost per kilogram delivered.
1) Sourced from Earth-Approaching Asteroids
Asteroids are located, then evaluated for resources, for capture and extraction difficulty. When a compelling plan is generated, including a convincing business case, investment in capture and utilization of these asteroids results in delivery of materials to a Processing Plant in high Earth orbit, and a variation on Sketch 3 of the previous Space Industrial “Startup” scenarios proceeds.
2) Sourced from “Belt” or Other Distant Asteroids
Similar to the sketch above, but here location and evaluation are more difficult, and execution timelines will be much longer. Higher-value asteroids (larger or with more valuable content) may be targeted, or setting up a “pipeline” for consistent scheduled deliveries may be essential.
3) Sourced from Mars or Its Moons
Whether there are early benefits to identifying, extracting and transporting volatiles or other materials to Earth or Lunar orbit (versus launch from Earth, or asteroid/comet recovery) is to be determined. It would need more types of launch systems and habitats, as well as long timelines.
These three scenarios should be considered together; the first establishes a flow of bulk raw materials, the second takes longer to establish but offers much larger and more varied supplies, while the third may offer larger quantities of some materials, but at a considerably higher price.
Here are tentative sketches of three Space Settlement Habitat “Startup” scenarios. All must be safe for pioneering families, meaning suitable gravity, shielding, etc. Their Key Metrics are: complexity, infrastructure, construction cost, time to initial continuous (permanent) residence, reliability, expandability, self-sustainability, times to begin and to finish payback on investment.
1) Anticipated Eventual Population of One Thousand – A Village
Although substantial science and technology research facilities are likely, this habitat is built to support a large-scale and high-payoff space enterprise requiring a sizeable in-space workforce. Design, transport and most infrastructure focus on that support to reduce both its cost and risk. As self-sustainable as practicality allows, it’s not clear if this habitat is the core of later habitats.
2) Anticipated Eventual Population of Ten Thousand – A Town
As large-scale space enterprises rise or expand, and space infrastructure capability grows, larger habitats become advantageous and more affordable. If reasonably safe and comfortable, they will attract new residents. As more come to work, goods and services for residents become industries themselves. Imports will be reduced until effectively, self-sustainability is achieved. The cultures of Earth will be available, and a population on this scale may be biologically viable. This size, as records of Greek and Renaissance city-states suggest, may be good for civilization. (This may also be the right size to build a habitat intended as a “generation ship” to the stars.)
3) Anticipated Eventual Population of One Hundred Thousand – A City
Whether or not habitats this large or larger will ever be necessary or desirable is undetermined. If “living in space” in the future grows as acceptable as “living in the New World” became to Europeans centuries ago, then for all the historic reasons, large numbers of people will migrate. When a migration begins, habitats this large or larger are going to be built, because nothing in science or engineering prevents their being built – economy and politics will then serve destiny.
These three scenarios are sequential, not simultaneous (unlike the other scenarios considered). The first establishes that large space habitats in space can be practical, the second that larger space habitats are good places for families to live, and the third that space is our New World. This New World of space can do more for humanity than any other pioneering effort in history. Our challenge is to “bring it to life” with speed and integrity, to benefit all those born of Earth.