Ring Habitats in Space

Stanford TorusA science fiction series known for revolutionizing the FPS (First-Person-Shooter) genre of videogames, Halo, depicts a future war between humanity and an alien alliance known as the Covenant. As the title suggests, a major plot point of the game involves giant structures called “halos” built by an ancient alien race. While everything else in the game is science fiction, the concept of giant rings that support life has been theorized for many years and is still prevalent today, such as in the recent film Elysium.

The most popular concept is the Stanford Torus, a space station shaped like a large ring (Or halo) that had a diameter of one mile, would have provided gravity for the inhabitants (Who would have lived on the inside of the ring) by rotating once a minute and possessed the capability to sustain over ten thousand inhabitants. The Stanford Torus was designed by Stanford University for the 1975 NASA Summer Study, where it had some support although the financial aspect to make such a space station a reality would have been too great. The project (Which would have been impossible at the time even with NASA, ESA and Soviet cooperation) was dropped in favor of the U.S. Space Shuttle. While technically the Stanford Torus was a sound design, it would have been too much of a leap considering at the time space stations such as Skylab could support roughly three people. This is not a unique idea though, as there had been several previous designs for a ring structure.

Rotating Wheel Space Station
Rotating Wheel Space Station

One of the previous designers of the ring design was Wernher von Braun, who was famously known for his work on the V2 rocket before working for NASA. His 1952 design was known as the Rotating Wheel Space Station, which also utilized the concept of the station rotating, which would use centrifugal force to create artificial gravity. Von Braun’s design only possessed three decks, and was envisioned more as a means to travel to Mars rather than a city in space as the Stanford Torus was, and it was only planned to support a crew of roughly eighty people. Considering it was the 1950’s and programs such as Mercury had not even begun until 1959, it’s obvious as to why NASA did not seriously consider the Rotating Wheel Space Station.

Nautilus-X
Proposed Nautilus-X design

Currently the largest space station in orbit around the Earth is the International Space Station, which is maintained by multiple countries around the world. Although it is a conventional space station design made up of modules, there are no plans to place any ring-shaped stations in orbit. Not only would it be incredibly difficult to construct such a station in orbit even with the cooperation of every space agency in the world, but there is also the possibility a new Russian station known as the Orbital Piloted Assembly and Experimental Complex (OPSEK), or the Orbital’naya Pilotiruyemyy Assambleya i eksperimental’nyy kompleks (ОПСЭК) which also uses a modular design that may be used to help explore deeper into the Solar System. However, there are plans for an ISS module known as the Nautilus-X that would consist of a ring design that could be used to study the effects of artificial gravity. Nautilus-X, which means Non-Atmospheric Universal Transport Intended for Lengthy United States eXploration, is planned to have a crew of six astronauts as well as the capability to maintain two-year long expeditions.

Though the design has never actually been used, the idea of a ring-shaped habitat that can provide gravity and help explore deeper into space has been around for many years, and while it is unfortunately too advanced for our current level of technology, perhaps someday humans will live in the vast expanses of space on giant Stanford Torus structures.

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