Colonized Interstellar Vessel: Conceptual Master Planning

posted by Steve Summerford on September 10, 2012


(redacted version: full paper available here: )


The notion of humanity exploring distant worlds has long been the substance of dreams; from early Renaissance thinkers condemned for their heretical visions, to banal fodder for modern day science fiction plots. With humanity’s insatiable appetite for knowledge and discovery, coupled with concerns surrounding the potential for an earthly cataclysmal event, it is only natural that armed with enough curiosity, we should seek to explore new horizons. As such, design proposals contained within this document aim to outline a smaller Colonized Interstellar Vessel (CIV), examining guidelines necessary to provide adequate living conditions for a given population, rather than envisioning how to encapsulate an exact visage of earth.

As a great deal of contemporary focus is commonly directed toward the technological requirements of space travel, designers of a CIV will need to be mindful that equal attention is allocated to the preservation of the mental and emotional human element. Without proper planning and thoughtful consideration to the physical, spatial, and psychological needs of the people tasked with living and operating in such a colony, even the most advanced technological achievements may risk failing at the human level. Design for the psyche and associated pragmatic daily functions should be of equal concern as those of cosmic radiation shielding, fuel supply, food procreation, etc. Should the precious human component be allowed to atrophy, the complete interstellar mission risks failure.

Thoughtful consideration must be exercised throughout the design phases to ensure a harmonious interconnection between infrastructure and its end users. Architecture and the interstitial spaces it creates should aim to promote healthy community living, while also meeting the basic territorial and privacy needs that human nature has become accustomed to on earth. Some methods for promoting psychological and physical well being through environmental design include:

  •  Allowing the user to modify the configuration and visual appearance of a space,
  •  Creating long vistas and distant focal points – Using structure to choreograph space, allowing for discovery and ‘unfolding’
  •   Varying materials, forms, shapes, textures, and colors to engage the mind
  •   Maintaining some semblance or connectivity to nature

The human brain will always be among the most advanced technologies aboard such a vessel; as such, the world designed around it should nurture and inspire, rather than simply function as containment.



The proceeding content derives and builds upon information contained within the Stanford Torus study of 1975, titled “NASA Document SP-413”.

While many geometries have been explored for vessel formation, the most popular include the sphere, cylinder, torus, and banded toruses; and previous studies have concluded that both the sphere and cylinder were less efficient compared to the torus configurations with regard to spatial usability.

Predecessor scale comparison

Rather than developing the predominant projected living plane throughout the toruses in a banded fashion, a simple 90-degree reversal of thinking results in a different geometry resembling ‘banded cylinders’ running parallel to the axis of rotation. Reducing the cost and developmental restrictions of curved planes, the primary living spaces are designed to have flat bottoms and faceted extrusions, extending into long linear structures, referred to as ‘bays’. This makes it possible to provide sufficient colonial living space while maintaining a compact vessel design that should allow for more feasible propulsion and life support systems engineering.

II Vessel Massing

Such a configuration of interconnected bays rotating about a central axial zero-g hub, with each bay containing dwellings, agriculture facilities, civic structures, open spaces, and places of work and research, will be the basis of design moving forward.

In an effort to design for maximum vessel modifiability, modularity and program become intimately engaged. For any early concept to have any sustainable longevity, it must be able to adapt to a constantly evolving set of parameters — both technical and programmatic — that demand reactive scalability. Establishing a clear module that can easily be replicated, accommodate scale flux, and provide for an efficient use of space becomes a key nodal component. A whole composed of many modifiable parts lends well to an organic evolution of design.

Composed of many modules, each of the vessel’s bays should vary in architectural character and functional layout. Interconnected by a series of semi-circular bridges (pedestrian viaducts), one could meander indefinitely throughout the entire colony, covering several kilometers (km). The proposed bay consists of 5 initial modules, creating a bay nearly 775m in length.

II Vessel Characteristics

II Scale Comparison



– It is important that the colonists have the ability to modify their dwellings and neighborhoods from time to time, necessitating the development of several different, but dimensionally related, prototypical homes that can be reconfigured periodically while still functioning as healthy neighborhoods.

II Plan Diagrams

– Creating numerous bays within the colony, rather than one enormous open space, permits a greater degree of control in the event of a significant adverse event (such as a medical emergency, agricultural disease outbreak, or mechanical systems / hull failure).

– Each residential module should attempt to be uniquely laid out, staggered, and utilized as a means for controlling and creating long and short vistas. Moving throughout a residential neighborhood should be a mentally enriching experience, thoughtfully choreographed, and not quickly absorbed and discarded by the brain — as would be the case if looking down a long corridor of homes.

II Elevation Diagrams

II Interior Perspective 2

– Multipurpose vegetation should be utilized throughout the community. In order to maximize efficiency, plant species should be used that provide edible parts or otherwise somehow contribute to the food or medicinal supply.

– Preserving pedestrian corridors and open space between structures provides colonists with the opportunity to gather and engage in social or recreational activities and increases the perceived openness, ultimately enhancing mental health and well being.

II Interior Perspective 1

– Although life will be relegated to existing within an artificially created environment, it should not always feel as such. While wood and stone may not be conducive to spacecraft design, the tactile nature of such elements improves the quality of a space by creating a semblance of nature connectivity.

As momentum behind pursuing such a monumental design challenge increases over time, it will be the cumulative effect of all the predecessor dreaming and design work that will ultimately allow such a marvel to be constructed. It may take decades, centuries, or even longer to fully realize, but all of humankind’s immense engineering design ideas began somewhere.

II Exterior Rendering


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89 Responses to Colonized Interstellar Vessel: Conceptual Master Planning

  1. Scott says:

    brilliant, love the thought and planning that has gone in to this, nice to see a design that isn’t outlandishly un-feasable. Have you guys ever thought of using the kickstart website to raise money / interest for developing technologies for this kind of thing. This would make an amazing space station that could be used to test the tech before the engines have been built

  2. Charles Quarra says:

    a few comments; as long as the ship is accelerating, the pods might actually have to be spread like a flower, otherwise the inhabitants will feel a lateral tug aside the centripedal gravity, also consider that any viable biome will have to have high ratios of plant and animal biomass to human biomass in order to guarantee redundancy and avoid extreme fluctuations in food availability

    • Steve Summerford says:

      Thanks for the feedback! Funny I had actually considered splaying it open like a flower for just that purpose. I eventually abandoned going there as it seemed like an extremely tenuous bit of engineering to allow for the bays to be manipulated open and closed, and I tend to favor more simplistic designs (at least conceptually). But you’re right. There may be some merit to allowing for a marked ‘acceleration period’ where the colonist are subject to unusual forces, then the vessel assumes a steady gradual acceleration that is barely noticeable?

      Agreed on food production as well–I think it’s important that extremely high-density food production (vegetation) practiced be implemented, and multiple redundant bays of agriculture provided to prevent a massive food shortage. Perhaps a balance of natural grown and lab grown food?? A great deal more research should be done in that area!

      Thanks again for sharing your thoughts!

      • Lovely work!

        The requirement for the modules spreading will depend on the ship’s acceleration. If it is low, there isn’t much point. People will get used to it. On the other hand spreading the modules 1 degree or 2 to avoid the feeling of continuously being on a slope might not be so complicated. On the third hand, maybe acceleration time is sufficiently short?

        Again, lovely work, regards,

        Michel Lamontagne

        • Steve Summerford says:

          Thanks for your thoughts! Clearly there are potentially several factors to consider.

          Keep the remarks and comments coming!

      • Alex Greene says:

        Any open bodies of water would just rush straight towards the stern during acceleration, and if the rotation were interrupted for any reason there would not just be the problem of people suddenly being in microgravity and flying along the last vector they were travelling; all that loose soil, all that water would experience the same microgravity conditions.

        • Acceleration is quite small and you wouldn’t get any perceptible movement.a large lake might get a 1m per km slope. There is no reason to interrupt rotation. But it would indeed be a catastrophe. Whatever the rotation mechanism, it will be multiply redundant and designed to be maintained in operation.

      • HyperSapien says:

        Unfortunately, splaying the bays like a flower to counteract lateral acceleration creates more problems than it solves, and just not in the engineering sense. As long as all the bays are straight, they all have the same angular velocity at all points along their length, and therefore the same amount of centrifugal force and apparent gravity. However, once you begin splaying the bays, the locations at the ‘tips’ of the flower’s ‘petals’ will have a higher angular velocity, and thus more apparent gravity, than the areas on the other end of the bays. Thus, attempting to counteract a real acceleration that acts uniformly along the entire bay with an apparent acceleration that varies significantly between ends will cause, to the feet if not the eyes, an illusion of the bay bowing up in the middle and running downhill towards the ends. To counteract this apparent bowing, you could introduce a real curvature in the bays as you splay them, but at this point the engineering difficulties become fairly insurmountable.

        While we’re on the subject, by using flat-bottomed bays with a centrifugal gravity system, you’ll notice the same effect (although much less severe) running in the crossswise direction….the bay will seem to bow in the middle, and run downhill to the long walls. Was this effect intentional? It may actually prove beneficial, if you intend to have artificial ‘rain’ in these structures…the rain would run naturally ‘downnhill’ to the long lateral walls, where it could be reclaimed easily.

  3. Ragnar says:

    Wonderful article. I enjoyed it very much.

  4. Michael says:

    Great art work, gives a real feel to the concept like you are there. I suppose once the acceleration phase is over the craft could be turned around to use the motor and tanks as shielding. Michael,

    • Steve Summerford says:

      Thanks! Shielding will certainly be an issue, as potentially lethal cosmic rays could emanate from any direction. It’s something I definitely don’t have the answer too. Is it mitigated through use of shear mass? Perhaps the vessel can generate some sort of magnetic plasma field??? Seems like a surmountable issue, but certainly one that will require careful design consideration!

  5. Michael says:

    Prehaps it is possible to use current carrying cables/wires in a coil configuration along the modules (length ways)these will form a magnetic field whose poles are perpendicular to the flight path giving greater protection from oncoming charged particles, Michael,

  6. John says:

    Why have glass windows on the “top” of each habitation module? In interstellar space there is little ambient light. Also, the crew will need shielding for the impact of dust particles when travel at extreme high speeds.

    • Steve Summerford says:

      Certainly a good point- I addressed this question (though not with a concrete answer) in the full version, but that issue didn’t make it into the redacted version in the blog. It’s a question worth further study. The pros of a translucent lexan or acrylic roof would be star gazing, openness, some notion of a sky, occasional starlight though dim, and star light upon approach. Certainly there would be long durations of no starlight. The cons are cost, exposure, etc. Avoiding the use of a translucent top makes a good deal of sense from those standpoints, as well as being able to beef up the cosmic ray shielding. I began my study with a translucent overhead condition, but as I progressed I began to favor an opaque hull continuation for many of the reasons you mentioned.

      Impact resistance will have to be a key component of any material. NASA research document SP-413 (Stanford Torus) has a great section about hull breach and how long it would take for a serious loss of internal atmosphere. Surprisingly enough, save for a large object in excess of a few meters in diameter, most breaches would leak very slowly and should be repairable.

      Thanks again for the discussion points!

      • Actually, thick glass should make for good shielding.

        Since the whole front of the ship is rotating, you could have bright outside lights, shining down into the modules, turning them off at night. And when you reach your destination, looking at it through the skylight at the target planet would be very enjoyable!

        Not to mention looking at Earth before you leave.

        M Lamontagne

  7. do you have a target for velocity? At 10% of the speed of light, you need to accelerate at 1m/s2 for 300 days, that would require an angle of about 10% to cancel out the ship’s acceleration in regards to the rotation. If you are going to accelerate at 0,1 m/s2, then the slope is about 1%,and is probably optional but it’ll take 10 years to reach 10%C. You may want to build in such a slope anyway, to control surface water flow, if you decide to provide rain!

    I think sprinklers and rain would be a good idea from time to time, cleans the place up. After all, the crew will continue to shed skin cells, leaves will fall, and plants will need to be watered.

    M Lamontagne

    • Steve Summerford says:

      Determining the correct target velocity is certainly outside of my scope of knowledge, but I’ve always used the 10%c benchmark in my mind. I don’t think a 10 year acceleration phase is too bad in the context of a multi-decade or even multi-century journey if it provides for more cost effective and stable engineering. I hadn’t planned on rain–to me, this is more of an urbanized vessel without becoming a full fledged ecosystem. I like the idea of perhaps allowing for a module within the vessel to be a sort of nature module, maybe containing “rain.” I think like the interior of any large structure, regular cleaning and maintenance will be an issue.


      • Scott Gordon says:

        A realistic propulsion system to reach 0.1c would (assuming it’s ‘rocket’-like as pictured) have to be powered by direct nuclear fusion and/or antimatter annihilation inside the rocket nozzle. The huge exhaust velocity will guarantee that an immense amount of power is involved [power for a given thrust is proportional to exhaust velocity]. Even acceleration over decades would be likely to produce more waste heat than all human energy use now – hence the whole design of the vehicle will probably be dominated by waste heat – including how slowly it accelerates.

        Anyone who anticipates accelerating at even 1% or so of 1G is dreaming as a result.

        I don’t think you’ll have to worry about things rolling sideways onboard. Just make the floors at 90 degrees to the axis as in the drawings.

  8. Steve, this is exciting work. The banded cylinders approach seems like a breakthrough. It strikes me that the best focus (a/b/c/d) may be a hybrid blend, with humans at the heart.

    It’s also great to see thought going into an enriching environment, with consideration for transit-oriented centers, tactile/organic materials, scaling-density design patterns, etc. Some of these are things I have in my own paper (on archive-habitats) for the 100YSS Symposium this weekend, but there wasn’t time in the session for all if it.

    My hope is that you’re going, as I’d love to compare notes! Otherwise drop me a line as I’d be glad to share my paper.

    Keep going,

    – Heath

    • Steve Summerford says:

      Hi Heath-

      Thanks for your comments! I am actually going to 100YSS this weekend, and am giving a presentation on this subject–Friday around noon I think…I look forward to meeting you there!

  9. Michael says:

    @John, We could still have a transparent material in front, the ioned gas from the collisions or magnetic field interactions would make a very nice light display, I fact it will illuminate the modules when at high enough speed.

  10. Nick Stevens says:

    Nice article.

    What are the 3 wide flat panels between the engine section and the habitation modules?

    They look like solar panels but that doesn’t make much sense to me.

    Maybe to radiate heat?

    • Steve Summerford says:

      Hi Nick-

      You’re right–they’re intended to conceptually indicate radiators. The full paper labels them as such–it just didn’t make it into the redacted version. Solar makes no sense except for perhaps during a small portion of the journey at the very beginning and end, which of course doesn’t justify the cost. I’d like to learn a bit more about recapturing as much radiant heat as vessel energy too…

  11. Astronist says:

    I would suggest you need to work more closely with a spacecraft engineer. The solution chosen for cosmic radiation shielding (together with the rotation to produce artificial gravity) really drives the design, in my view. In addition, the overall appearance of the vessel will be dominated by propellant tanks, so you need to know how large those will be and how they are arranged. Think of Daedalus, which was dominated by its spherical propellant tanks.

    Oxford, UK

  12. Nico says:

    Shielding is everything – it will have to be electromagnetic and strong enough to deflect at speed. Without disrupting the internal systems. Tough nut, I recommend looking into plasma fields as an option.

  13. Michael says:

    If we fired a charged particle beam ahead of the craft any charged particles would be influenced by it, if it hits a non charged one it would soon become one, this could just give enough energy to deflect it from hitting the craft. A general magnetic field (although a powerful one) could be used to deflect or slow cosmic radiation.

  14. Dylan says:

    Beautiful concept.
    The artwork really makes me think. I wish i could find more awesome modeling like this.

    How about a second level below living quarters that hold living ecosystems? Water would sink to the bottom of these ecosystems in large reservoirs and serve as a barrier against harmful cosmic radiation.

    Can humans ever survive long term without an ecosystem to support them?

    • Steve Summerford says:

      Thanks Dylan. It’s a combination of building a massing model (Sketch Up actually) and digital painting / embellishing in Photoshop with one of those Wacom Tablet pens. I think humans can certainly survive without a “Real” ecosystem, provided that they are supplied with basic essentials + some extras. The idea would be to provide healthy, well thought out spaces that promote and maintain mental and physical health. A tactile connection to nature would be an essential component, though it’s unlikely to be in the form of a massive bio-sphere!

      Thanks for your comments!

  15. Pete Wason says:

    Don’t forget landing craft for when this reaches the destination. It would be a shame to spend all that time going somewhere, and then be stuck up in orbit. Or are we assuming the natives will send up taxis? :)

    • Steve Summerford says:

      In the longer version of my research I actually touch (briefly) on this–I think it’s imperative that we have a destination in mind, pre-scouted, and that components from the CIV vessel are able to be dismantled, transferred to the new planet surface, and reconfigured into the beginnings of the new civilization (perhaps via space elevator cables?)

      Of COURSE the natives will send up taxis, but just in case they don’t…..

      • Daniel Domeisen says:

        In terms of landing, given the size and mass of each section of the ship could it be possible to use something like a massive array of parachutes? I know it sounds stupid but if each living section could land then most of the starting pains of colonization would be easier. I hope that this is started in my life time, one planet is simply not safe as too much can go wrong. has there been any consideration to laws and political structures during and after the flight? ideas on dealing with mental illness of generations ON the flight and so on? Best of luck.

  16. Hi Steeve,

    I wonder if the ship should come fully built? Perhaps you should plan for supplying all the required materials, but not actually building all the interior of the bays; you could have a densely populated module that serves as an initial habitat, and the crew could ‘spread out’ and build the rest is the ‘frontier’ bays. It would make for a more dynamic living space, more bottoms up and less top down. Keep everybody busy.
    As the crew grows older and children appear, needs will change and more space be required. at 10% of the speed of light, this is at least a 40 year trip, and maybe a century if the target is 10 light years away, three generations…

    M Lamontagne

  17. David Good says:

    First, let me say that this is truly a fantastic design. You hit the nail on the head with your “tactile stimulation” environment. In any long duration flight, stimulation must be built into the environment, or you will have people heading for the nearest airlock out of sheer boredom. If you take a look at enclosed spaces like malls or indoor amusement spaces like the West Edmonton Mall ( you might get more ideas about how the design and layout might look.
    I also like how this might be a modular system as well. If you are going farther out, you might want a few more modules, different power plants, or engines. Upon arrival at the target system, if the colonists don’t find what they are looking for, they hit up the local asteroids, strip mine them, and upgrade their ship. You could even have the ability to duplicate the complete ship at your destination, so those who want to continue on can do so, while those who wish to remain can. This is a very flexible design.
    On the “sky” overhead, why not use flat panel OLED displays to generate an artificial sky affect. It could run a program that is optimized to human circadian rhythms, and could shorten “days” to give the effect of seasons. The more natural an environment, the less stressful it would be to be “cooped” up in. This also gives another advantage in that you don’t have to weaken the structure by having a “glass roof”; the hull of each bay is a solid structure except where penetrated by the pedestrian viaducts.
    As for shielding of the bays how about this: ( EM shielding powered by the on board power plant. While we’re at it, take your power plant and hook it up to, and you can use the magnetosphere of the target system to decelerate from cruise, without adding more remass.

    • Steve Summerford says:

      Hi David-

      Thanks for your comments and great ideas! I love the idea of OLED or similar technology to emulate the natural circadian rhythms that will be missing! The trick will be to design it in such a way that it feels believable rather than fake and contrived–the last thing we want is a Vegas interior sky rendering or for it to feel like you’re in a mall with a fake sky. I think careful use of thin screens, natural light in the sunlight spectrum with blue diffusion, etc. and the right ambient illumination could be very successful. The inclusion of “days” of cloudiness that are unpredictable may also work. Perhaps even a “live” projection or emulation of what the universe presently looks like at that point in flight during the night too. Certainly, there would be translucent observation decks with small aperture vistas.

      As I progress, I’m favoring excluding a translucent roof in favor of a better shielding material. Thanks for the great links! I think some form of EM shield, perhaps in conjunction with material thickness shielding, may succeed in reducing annual radiation exposure to safe levels.

      Keep the ideas coming!

  18. David Good says:


    Another thought occurred to me, what if you wrap each habitation module in an ice shield. It could function as an ablative shield and be easily replaced by harvesting Oort or Kuiper Belt Objects on arrival at the target system.

    I read the more in depth paper, and I actually showed some of it to my kids, they understood what you were trying to do with the interior spaces. Kids get these things, because they haven’t filtered their imagination with “This can’t be done.” I keep thinking that you could have a whole subset of people who have nothing to do with flying the ship, or any of the science, but just running a restaurant or bar. Something like that is a touch of home, that is what makes it a real human society. Kids playing in the parks, couples becoming families, watching their kids grow into adulthood, and taking their place in society, as their home travels the stars.

    • Steve Summerford says:

      Hey David-

      I think ice is a great idea. The exact thickness (or even modified density?) required is beyond my knowledge, but it’s an interesting thought. I think liquid hydrogen is supposed to be one of the better liquid shields, but of course it’s a bit harder to deal with!

      I love the fact that you shared my illustrations with your children! Thanks for doing that! It’ll likely be their children’s children’s children before serious funding or design work head this direction, so the more knowledge we can instill and inspire with at a young age, the better. I think my lack of technical knowledge makes me a bit akin to a child in that I’m not terribly apprised of what “can’t be done,” (understanding that everyday, people are doing what couldn’t be done once). I’m all for throwing an idea around that has enough thought behind it to make it worth uttering aloud, and then seeing what happens. There’s a lot of great discussion going on right now surrounding such a vessel.


      • David Good says:

        You know as well thought out as your design is, it occurred to me that maybe we could take a page out of Dandridge Cole’s notebook. What if we find an M type asteroid, say about 10 clicks length overall, we use a solar furnace to melt out the interior, harvest the volatiles, regularize the shape, add the systems needed for spaceflight, spin it up, and then terra form the interior. In the end, you have a starship large enough to house a city full of people, plenty of room for them to grow, with a hull made from nickel steel, at least a few hundred meters thick. I am assuming that our propulsion system is relatively high end, and we aren’t limited by mass or performance.

        A lot of your basic design premises still have to be in effect. The ship has a massive interior, but this is a long duration flight, so the same conclusions that you’ve reached regarding the living conditions would be true. Also, the volume of space allows variation in terrain, even farming. Lagoons, forests, plains, could all be found. Watch this: This of course is on a much more vast scale, about 50km LOA, but it would give you an idea what I am talking about.

  19. chris says:

    Without the ability to map where the black holes, magnitars and pulsars are, how does one plan on their avoidance?

  20. Andy Brice says:

    Interesting. Would you simulate day and night? Would the cycle be synchronised for all modules? Would you simulate seasons? Would all the modules have the same climate? Large spaces like these might actually generate their own climates-different to what the designer intended. Will there be any bodies of water? Of course, the social issues are even more difficult: will their be money, police, government? While the first generation of colonists might be carefully selected, that won’t be true of their offspring!

    • Steve Summerford says:

      Great comments–I actually addressed–or at least posed- some of those issues at 100YSS this year during my brief talk. Will there be money? Jails? What sort of government or hierarchy structure will there be? Who works? And why? etc. In fact, even the issue of is it a capitalist society, or more of a work-share or even “all-expenses-paid-for” sort of society could even be argued to be a driver of population size. A population would likely need to be larger in order to produce an economy, whereas an environment where working to live isn’t the concern and basic necessities are provided may be able to be smaller.

      If you scroll through the comments, someone else had a great idea to simulate day/night utilizing LED technology or whatever we have them. I think the whole colony could operate on the same circadian cycle, as it wouldn’t be too large, but that’s an interesting question.


      • John Pattullo says:

        it would be advantageous to have the different modules in differing seasons for the food supply from agriculture to be consistent year round then you dont need to store food for ‘winter’

        for radiation shielding why not use water tanks, your going to need a sizeable resevior anyway so why not put it to use as radiation shielding

        • AACARRR says:

          John, in regards to shielding I was thinking interior walls (non-structual and/or walls with no wiring or other mechanical systes)within the livin quarters could be used as water storage and provide added shielding. The walls could be prefabbed hollow walls of various modular dimensions using plastic molding processes.(big water bottles basical) Placing a few water filled walls in each cluster of living quarters could create a honeycomb pattern of extra shielding. Walls could be easily connected via flexible tubing to a small pump for daily use.

      • Bennett Hepburn says:

        What are your thoughts on having programmers/ video game designers both as passengers and as a means of creating an economy? A small team of 50 – 100 programmers can create and test an MMORPG (such as Warcraft) and transmit the finished game back to Earth via Faster Than Light communications. This does two things: 1) creates a distraction for interstellar travelers and 2) creates an economy that may be used to offset/ payoff any loans associated with building an interstellar ship. Such games have/ can generate several hundred million dollars in a few short years.

  21. Christopher Swanson says:

    Great work – I just wanted to comment on the “spreading” of the bays to reduce lateral g forces. The problem that I see is that your shielding requirements go up. When you keep the bays parallel to one-another, then the relativistic radiation, and physical impacts are more biased to the front of the craft. If you spread the bays out, the shielding needs to take that into account (and cover the “top” of the bays to a greater degree).

    • AACARRR says:

      in regards to shielding I was thinking interior walls (non-structual and/or walls with no wiring or other mechanical systes)within the livin quarters could be used as water storage and provide added shielding. The walls could be prefabbed hollow walls of various modular dimensions using plastic (PVC)molding processes.(big water bottles basically) Placing a few water filled walls in each cluster of living quarters could create a honeycomb pattern of extra shielding. Placed perpendicular to one another as well as in the flooring of each unit. Walls could be easily connected via flexible tubing to a small pump for daily use.

  22. JohnHunt says:

    If this is representative of Project Hyperion, then I am concerned about the path that it is taking. The massiveness of it, the speeds that it must travel, the difficulty of sustaining functioning life support, the likely lack of resupply all means that this is not likely to be the first manned true interstellar mission. The costs of developing such a massive undertaking and the infrastructure to provide the necessary power for acceleration and deceleration together makes it improbable that this will be the first such mission to be launched. I have no problem with imaging such a craft so long as it does not delay expert study or detracts from less massive, lower power, less life support approaches. Coolness of renderings or sentimental sci fi imaginings are not appropriate criteria for deciding what the first manned true interstellar mission will be.

    If Project Hyperion, for some reason, must be a huge hollow craft with generations of living, consuming people, then I would request that another project be established that will first determine what the first manned interstellar mission will more likely be and then to select designers who will design based upon those criteria. Thanks.

    • John Pattullo says:

      I would have to disagree with you there, unless you plan to have a functioning warp drive for the first manned interstellar mission, then the ship does need to be vast in scale simply to provide life support, let alone an environment suitable for keeping people sane for the length of the journey which will likely be at least a significant proportion of a human life.

      I dont think you would get many volunteers to jump in a space capusule for 50-100 years, this design would allow for people who effectively are colonists, to take there families or to form families on board the ship with a productive and rewarding life on board.

      So failing warp drive or achieving speeds well in excess of 50%c you need a design like this (though I think the visual representation of the fuel tanks are woefully inadequate).

      • JohnHunt says:

        What about hibernating crew? What about frozen embryos. Both would be far less massive and not have the sanity issue for which an O’Neilian-sized ship addresses. These mega ships are not needed for reasons of necessity. When it comes down to actually building ships, necessity will drive the design. So why not design according to need from the get-go?

        • Steve Summerford says:

          Hi John-

          Thanks for your comment (and previous comments)–the aim behind my paper was to spark such debate, and although I’m obviously going to disagree with the majority of what you’re saying, I’m glad to see such contributions.

          Hyperion looked at methods of human transport such as frozen embryos, hibernation, etc. The consensus was that such technologies are clearly unproven and seemingly much more distant–not to mention loaded with what would surely be a lengthy and heated ethical debate. The “let’s make humans happy and healthy” ship approach does result in more mass, but that is a potentially more easily solved engineering problem, rather than requiring a whole new line of medical engineering science. Embryos, suspended humans, etc. will still require radiation shielding, etc.–the most significant advantage (as you alluded to) would be the weight / mass savings.

          I would like to say that I agree 100% with you about not needing “mega-ships”–I think we just have different definitions of what that may be. To me, the shear mass and size of many predecessor designs such as the O’Neill Cylinders make such a vessel unlikely to EVER become a reality (I believe the O’Neill ship contained two cylinders, with each measuring 32km in length and 8km in width!) I think ships at that scale are an unreasonable fantasy. As such, I wanted to look at what sort of vessel could provide healthy living quarters for a “minimum” crew, as compactly as possible. I think achieving a percent to perhaps a couple percent of the speed of light for a cruising velocity is highly ambitious–though possible–and would still result in a voyage length of a couple centuries. There will be generations of humans who are born and die aboard such a vessel, so every effort should be made to preserve a healthy lifestyle, foster the passing on of knowledge, and provide shelters and materials that can be reused upon arrival at the destination planet.

          At the moment, (though we’re researching it further), a target population of about 10,000 people seems likely to support a healthy community, economy, etc. Working from a population-driven model, and deriving some values from the Stanford Torus study and cross referenced with my experience as an urban planner, I arrived at a necessary internal area value.

          You’ll see that my ship concept pales in comparison to the size of the O’Neill cylinder, as again, I agree that the size will be the killer. It would still be the largest man-made structure ever built, make no mistake, but it is NOT a worldship (no lakes, rolling hills, etc.) I think the notion of packing a couple hundred people into a bloated capsule expecting them to not off themselves in a few decades is insane. However, I don’t feel the need to design an earth-proxy replete with outdoor adventure space either.

          We have a long way to go for sure, but I believe it will be in the direction of awake, human occupied travel, which necessitates a sort of cruise-ship in space. Unless there are significant breakthroughs in hibernation or embryo technology, I feel this is the fastest track to something that will already be generations beyond our lifetimes.

          Thanks again for the discussion,

          • JohnHunt says:

            OK, I appreciate some attempt at reducing the scale. I still think that it is huge as I believe that Daedalus or Icarus is still too large.

            Let me ask this. IF there were a medical breakthrough in the realm of human hibernation, would that substantially change Team Hyperion’s view on the size of vessel that would be needed? Regardless of what I say next, would that make a difference or are there other reasons to insist on awake colonists besides today’s medical technology?

            Now, the problem is that we need to take into account intermediate-term technology. It is often difficult to estimate breakthroughs but we certainly won’t use only today’s medical technology but whatever technology is readily available at the time of launch, right? So, we should try estimate whether it is more likely than not that either hibernation or the various technologies affiliated with raising frozen embryos to adulthood are possible.

            Let me take hibernation because I think that it is less controversial. We now have the entire human genome sequence. If we don’t have it already, we will have the entire genome sequence for hibernating mammals. Wood frogs routinely nearly freeze with minimal metabolism until spring. Wouldn’t it seem likely that we’ll be able to identify the genetic basis of hibernation certainly before launch, say 2070-2100? I think that it is reasonable. From a frozen crew standpoint, progress has been made with cryopreservation but I would think that it is more difficult to estimate when we will be able to figure that one out.

            As for frozen embryos and the associated automated child-rearing, all of that is largely just engineering. A lot of work but a lot of it will have already been done for us by researchers for other reasons.

            I don’t think that there needs to be a population of 10,000. You don’t need this for a Minimum Viable Population (MVP). That is only about 1,000 and could be achieved with frozen embryos with genetic diversity.

            I’m pushing for much smaller since I believe that a true interstellar manned mission should be launched sooner than later for survival of the human species purposes. I believe that beamed propulsion will be achieved before these large fusion propulsion concepts traveling at .1c. For human species survival, travel times can be much slower provided that the humans are not awake.

          • JohnHunt says:

            So I’m wondering if the other manned options were given adequate consideration. Was there anyone on the team that preferred those options from the start?

          • Scott Gordon says:

            I must say I think that people’s idea of setting a minimum number of colonists for ‘genetic diversity’ reasons is fairly ill-conceived.

            If you have certain probably almost near-term (next-few-decades) technology then you can almost certainly create children with essentially any viable DNA sequence based on nothing but a computer file – you can introduce any genetic diversity that you like, limited only by the colonists’ ability to produce children.

            In this scenario people could have arbitrary numbers of descendants on any other distant colonized planet without a single atom of their bodies ever leaving Earth. All you do is get their DNA sequence; email it to the colonists; and wait for them to synthesize artifical DNA & use it to produce an artificial embryo to grow into a child.

            The same principle applies to plants, other animals, useful bacteria etc. or anything else living which the colonists need – in fact you could in principle build up complex chemical processing plants and an arbitrary biosphere this way, to the point of growing the largest animals and plants without them ever making the journey (assuming of course that you’ve already got a working ecosystem and enclosed atmosphere etc. on the planet).

            Having this kind of technology is not vary far-fetched. The appropriate DNA sequencing and human cloning needed is almost available NOW. The only hold-ups are being able to synthesize whole-chromosome DNA reliably, and overcoming ethical objections (something which science to date suggests will not be a problem).

            It would be well worth those contemplating interstellar colonisation to take these kinds of almost present day technologies into account. This radically changes peoples’ idea of what technology the colonists will be taking with them, and what they will do when they get there.

        • John Pattullo says:

          well the frozen embryos thing i find an unlikely concept

          unless you have robotic humanoids with ai’s as intelligent and emotionally aware as humans to look after them then its not going to work

          also the parents of these embryos on earth are they just going to send their unborn child off into space never to be seen again and to be raised by robots? i honestly cant see that working.

          hibernation……well yes its possible but again i have doubts about it

          yes some animals can hibernate or as you suggest with the frogs even be frozen, but for me it comes down to the fact they aren’t human, perhaps you could genetically engineer some of these abilities into a human but they wouldn’t be strictly human anymore and i do not believe it likely these extraordinary abilities can necessarily be chemically induced in a normal human

          i think that an awake functioning human crew is the only realistic way forward

          perhaps frozen embryos could be taken as well limiting the number of crew required for genetic diversity but i think a active crew would still be required in some form

          i know you were concerned with the scale of the vessel and presumably the fuel required to move that mass and the fact you see the prime motivation for this to be racial survival, and while i agree both are issues i do not see them as the primary concerns

          lets think about fuel, yes its huge issue but lets assume we want to move this large ship, well we make the fuel tank 20 (or however much larger they need to be) times the size, its a scale issue not a science problem, going even larger then yes the fuel requirements might get to unmanageable, but since propulsion systems are still theory how feasible this or any interstallar craft would be is still debatable

          survival of the species will not be the motivation for sending such a ship, not anytime soon anyway, it will be scientific curiosity or money (don’t ask what could be the financial incentive i have no idea for something so far away)

          any such voyage is likely to run aground when it comes to money since the costs would be astronomical (sorry couldn’t resist)

          if it comes to survival of the species it would be in the face of an immediate threat, and that would leave the question of if we would have time to construct such a vessel on short notice, lets face it politicians are short sighted, they cant even agree on curbing carbon dioxide emissions cause it might hurt their chances of reelection, so giving the go ahead on what would likely be the most expensive project in human history for something that might not be needed for 5 billion years………..unlikely

  23. rick says:

    actually that design is pretty dangerous if the ship is supossed to travel faster that 1% of the speed of light, for collisions , plus the shielding from radiation , a better way to improve the desig without many modification will be to put a big circular shield that covers the living module and the tanks from collisions, may be it would look like a mushroom.
    and it will give you that space inside to use to make, keep or store small ships in case of emergency or to deploy once the destination is reach or like a cargo bay.

    another thing to pay attention to is that a 1000 is to many for any type of life support, maybe keep the capacity for that but trying to put no more that a 100 people in the begging since in four generations there will be no room or resources.

    may be will be more practical to take few people , plus robots , and use genetic engeniering to create th rest of the people once there is abundance in the new destination.

    very interesting design.s omething like that will be very useful to keep mine worker generations that take the resources of the planets and moons in the solar system to create more ships , and generate a new economy , and find someone that would travel to another star.

    keep the good work

  24. Michael says:

    I am proud to say Steve I have used your artwork as my screen saver, it is articles such as your’s that visualise an idea and bring life to a concept and does wonders to bring many closer to the fold. Further what software do you use to construct the artwork I might use it for some designs I have in mind.

    • Steve Summerford says:

      Hi Michael–thanks for your comments! Glad to hear your liked the graphics! I had fun creating them.

      I actually use Sketch Up to make rudimentary massing models and to help me with the design work, then export as high a quality as I can into Photoshop. In Photoshop, I use a Wacom tablet (the cheap one) to digitally paint / render the final image. It’s mostly my painting effect in the end, but at least the massing and proportions are modeled. Semi-convincing illustration boils down to creating the right mood with lighting and shadows. If you do nothing else but paint on 50% opacity shadows, you’ll end up with a much more ‘alive’ illustration. Other quick tricks (as you can spend as much or as little time as you want on an illustration) would be to paint a little highlight on the leading edges of certain surfaces (I chose to make the vessel emit a blueish plume, as the blue contrasted nicely with the yellowish nature of the vessel, then I used a blue glow over the reflective surfaces).

      Certainly you can get into great detail with modeling if you wish, in programs such as Max, Rhino, etc. and export fantastic computer renderings. Even then, it’s worth 30 minutes in Photoshop adding depth and glow. I routinely get get my hands on brilliantly detailed computer models of architecture, and spend an hour in PS adding life to the images–mostly glow and shadows.

      What software do you have access too? I’m happy to share my thoughts further if you want to email me.


  25. Bill says:

    The ship should be armored and weoponized we would be foolish to send an undefended ship into uncharted and possibly hostile space.

    • John Pattullo says:

      the idea of placing armour on the ship would increase the mass dramatically – its simply not viable

      also frankly if they meet a hostile alien race with technology even close to the level of ours TODAY then the ship is lost since it cant simply turn around and come home quickly

      i think you would simply have to accept the small risk of an alien encounter and since ships like these would be traveling only to relatively close stars and that we have detected no radio emission from, then they are either primative and no threat or far beyond us in which case we would be at their mercy regardless

      • Mark Martel says:

        It would be armored against relativistic particles, and for weapons you turn the drive on the bad guys.

  26. Michael says:

    @Steve, Sorry for the late reply. As an engineer I use autocad and simple technical drawing programs, I would like to give a more realistic 3D look to some designs I have in mind, Thanks for the tips I will try to get hold of the software and try out the techniques.

  27. Jarrod says:

    Sounds good to me. How long does it take Colonized Interstellar Vessel to travel to nearby stars, 5 light years away?

    • Jarrod says:

      How long does it take Colonized Interstellar Vessel to travel to star that is 5 light years away?

      • John Pattullo says:

        all theory at the moment but most of these designs call for a velocity between 5-10% the speed of light so 50-100 years would be my guess

  28. Si R says:

    The design is functional yet encorporates a pleasant living environment. But this is a slower-than-light vessel:

    Have you though about interstellar colony vessels encorporating the Alcubierre Drive? Although still theory recent study conducted by Harold White has shown that energy requirements are feasible, and with clever engineering the drive could eventually be constructed. White and his team at Nasa are currently conducting experiments to perturb space-time by one part in ten million using the White-Juday Warp-Field Inferorometer.

    -The drive would allow the vessel to travel ten times the speed of light without violating the laws of phyics. As such the vessel would reach it’s destination within a matter of years, so would not need to be so large or carry as many colonists: many of these ships could be constructed to ferry colonists to their destinations and return to earth to collect more. Future developments in Hibernation-Cryo technology would again reduce the size of the vessel, allowing many colonists to be stored in relatively small spaces, leaving room for cargo, such as the pre-fabricated colony buildings, equipment for terraforming the world and heavy-lift shuttle-craft to transport all of this planetside.

    -Of course to return to Sol the vessel would need to refuel once it has reached the proposed colony world: as such some sort of pre-fabricated electrolosis plant would need to be carried to harvest hydrogen from comets and moons in the colony’s local system. The hydrogen would provide reaction-mass fuel for the sub-light thrusters, and deteurium for the fusion reactor which would power the vessel including it’s Alcubierre Drive.

  29. Adam V says:

    Steve Summerford, I must ask: Mind if I use/create an extensively modified version of your idea? I like the idea of using modular bays for the crew and passengers. However, the size concerns me. Why would we need a vessel 800m in diameter? Would not an estimated 300m still be enough for the current sized bays? Plus the design still needs a primary hull to contain not only the bays but the probe hangars as well. The command module could be lengthened along with the engines. Shielding wouldn’t be much of problem. In fact, the bays lend themselves to the design of a large Bitter Magnet, the kind that protects well against Cosmic radiation; especially when that Bitter magnet is coupled with plasma created from the engine’s waste heat. The modified idea could be scaled appropriately to mission purpose. The CIV would still possible with ~380-400m diameter width design. Smaller vessels such as cargo freighters, current exploration vehicles, and military frigates and destroyers could still benefit from this concept. Note: Such vehicles would not need as many bays nor at such large size.

    • Steve Summerford says:

      Hi Adam-

      Thanks for your comments! You’re right that the idea I laid out with modular bays on armatures can be expanded or contracted–the issue becomes RPM’s and the Coriolis Effect (disorientation). I set the radius to allow for a slow 1.5 RPM at 1.0g, which is generally accepted to be barely noticeable. Decreasing the radius to just 200m results in a RPM of approximately 2.15 at 1.0g, which is seemingly fine, though some people such as Robert Zubrin suggest that the decreased radius (<200m or so) may increase the Coriolis effect. More research is certainly needed there.

      I had considered the notion of using plasma and magnets for shielding. It's out of my knowledge area for sure, but I sat in on some fascinating presentations about the subject at this year's 100YSS Symposium, and my take away was that it would require massive magnets to work. I'm not sure what the correct answer will be–perhaps a combination of material shielding and magnetism / plasma.

      My scheme does contain a "Core" intended as a catch-all for the uses of low gravity, command, storage, fuel, etc. It could easily be sized up or down accordingly. I have also recently revised my design a bit (as part of an ongoing Hyperion project) to include leading edge debris shields–there is much debate as to just what the best approach to this issue is.

      So overall, please feel free to be inspired by my thoughts. I hope to contribute to the discussion somehow, so I'm glad to have generated so much discussion! Although the diameter of my total CIV proposal reads approximately 800m, the mass would be very commensurate with that of a tighter configuration (of say 400m) since the only material reduction in doing so would be in the trusses that connect the bays to the core–which are intended to be as lightweight and ephemeral as possible. The majority of the mass — bays, modules, engine, etc. — would remain unchanged. Arriving at the perfect balance between radius and mass is certainly a complicated trade-off task. Also, while I think such a vessel would contain smaller exploration vessels, I see no need for military involvement or carrying ordinance…who would we be fighting and why? How could we possibly presume our technology to be superior or even equal to that of another advanced civilization, especially if we engage them in their own territory? I think any such CIV mission will likely be to a destination within 5-10 ly, and I think we're reasonably confident that an advanced, space-weaponized civilization does not exist within several ly of Earth. I do see value in including vessels that could perhaps collect resources from asteroids (although travel velocity would be an issue), or perhaps more relevant, vessels that have the ability to destroy potential space debris in the path of the vessel…

      Thanks for reading!

    • Adam V says:

      Thanks for the response Steve! However, I might want to adjust for the Alcubierre drive. The Bitter magnetic cylinder wrapped around the bays might yet be useful for that drive as well. Especially if plasma can be used as a delivery platform for the negative energies.

  30. Keith Pretzer says:

    Good day. I found your website with this ship concept while researching a science fiction story I am working on. I would like to incorporate a great deal of your concepts if that is acceptable, and would give credit of course.

    I started my college career as an astrophysics major, but after several years I changed to business and am now a banker of all things. But I have a very clear idea of the challenges of traveling to another star, and frankly doubt vehicles such as yours would be able to make it given what we know about reaction drives, However I do see your vehicle being perfect for a scientific voyage to a nomad planet say within 0.1 light years. I see something like your concept, maybe pushing a large ball of ice ahead of it to use for reaction mass, shielding, and water. I believe an advanced technical civilization is more likely to travel and colonize the Galaxy by traveling to and colonizing comets and nomadic planets, spreading out much like Pacific Islanders, or nomadic Arabs traveling oasis to oasis. Perhaps such civilizations are reserved, self sufficient, and keep low profiles, which would address the problem of the Fermi Paradox.
    Enjoyed your concept, I have already thought of a number of enhancements that would be easily incorporated. My mind is spinning with ideas thanks to you!

    Best wishes.

    Keith Pretzer

    • Steve Summerford says:

      Hi Keith-

      Thanks for having a look through my paper and for your comments! I’m thrilled you found inspiration in my ideas–certainly there’s TONS of room for modification, improvement, etc.–my main intent was to share some spatial and organizational thoughts and to inspire thinking! Of course you can derive inspiration from my concept for you story–it’d be an honor to be credited. There’s no reason an idea should eve stop being evolved–whether through study, experimentation, or even fictional exploration. Many of the ‘worldship’ ideas widely regarded today are born from the imaginations of science fiction writers–perhaps you can help push it along!

      Thanks for your thoughts–I’d love to have a read someday when it’s all wrapped up!


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  32. Eric says:

    Hi Steve,

    This is some nice work. There is one minor issue I thought I’d point out though. With flat bottomed bays and multi-level structures within each bay, there will be significant variations in the perceived gravitational force, especially in the vertical direction. At 1.5 rpm the perceived gravity will decrease by about 0.025 g for every 10 meters in elevation above ground level. That may not sound like much, but if I’m interpreting the diagrams and drawings correctly, that means a person weighing 180 lbs at ground level would weigh about 165 pounds on the elevated crosswalk. Considering that the variation will be experienced in very short amounts of time, I imagine most people would find that somewhat disorienting and could lead to the occasional accident (at least until everyone adapted to moving about in a variable g environment).

    Other than the need to accommodate the number and size of the bays, it’s not clear what constraints/considerations drove the choice of rotational speed and radius (e.g., projected structural capacity of the radial struts). Unfortunately, as noted in the full paper, the radius required for a given g-force is inversely proportional to the square of the rotational speed. But if there aren’t any other hard constraints on the maximum diameter of the vessel, I think it’s worthwhile to aim for a slower rotation and lengthen the radial struts accordingly. For example, at 1.2 rpm, the radius would need to be about 620m, and the variation would drop to about 0.016 g for every 10 meters of elevation.

  33. Eric says:

    Aside from the rather minor consideration I noted above, I’m inclined to agree with John Hunt’s comment that such a ship design present problems that unnecessarily complicate a first manned mission, e.g., how to build critical subsystems supporting thousands of passengers that will operate continuously for as much as 100 years or more. Also, while I realize this design work is not intended to address any specific propulsion systems, I think it’s worth at least assuming a certain class of propulsion to help constrain certain design choices. It’s hard to overstate the depressing realities of the rocket equation and its implications for a vessel of this size.

    That said, the design is certainly appealing from a human factors point of view. I think perhaps it’s more appropriate to something like an orbital colony. But there’s no reason not to explore such designs in the context of interstellar missions even if it becomes more useful for driving other types missions and goals.

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  35. Polaris says:

    The problem is Earth’s gravity well. No one’s ones going anywhere until we find a cheap way to get out of it. The Space Elevator’s advanced materials engineering is the key to our future – and might spin off into your ship’s structural design choices.

  36. Mark Lummis says:

    CIV / ICS

    I have great faith that Humanity shall be a space-faring Race, and let us remember that this comes with great responsability. Mastering basic technologies and our local space, the Solar System, first is a pre-requisite.

    Are we currently exportable as a Race? If there is a Galactic Counsel, we’d still be considered as barbarians. This kinda sums up the Black Sky Question…

    As for the moniker “Colonized Interstellar Vessel” (CIV)”, may I suggest ICS (Interstellar Colonizing Ship) that we do sufficient exploration before being brash and immediately wanting to colonize anywhere.

    Let’s backtrack just a little in the history of shipbuilding for different travelling methods upon or through variegated mediums to put things into perspective of how an amazing stage we are in our developments: The wheel, the pirogue, the caravelle, the Concorde, the MHD submarine, the MIR, the Space Shuttle, etc…

    The current CIV is a rather beautiful ship, yet it does look more like an orbital station: this project, as I see it is more than just about achieving an arrow-like trajectory… As is, I would not command it for sure 😉
    Let’s simply upgrade this good basic design concept, and keep our minds and options open.

    The Starship I propose is easy to draw up: six bays with a thicker core, all wrapped in a cylinder finish that hopefully shall be of many layers of appropriate materials (graphene composites, gold, lead, etc?) that has several properties (shielding, photovoltaic optical sensing (why not? cameras can certainly reproduce what’s going on outside)), etc… ergo the importance of materials sciences). And with sufficient (retractable?) wings having secondary thrusters and equipment jutting from between each bays (maybe the retractable demi-hemispheric observation decks go there?), and the ship’s nose should be extra solid, plus network-linked sub-bays with double or triple quick air-locks. And importantly, it ought to have at least two different propulsion systems (better safe than sorry).

    M. Lamontagne’s proposal for incremential ‘dynamic’ living spaces is an excellent idea, proper payloads are crucial. And, as mentioned, sufficient shuttles aboard. Having the capacity to modify their dwelling spaces, having extra building and repair parts, labs, etc. to keep crew members productive and happy. The residential neighborhoods do not have to be as large as portrayed; social and recreational facilities, medical and other facilities replicated and distributed about the bays. Many layers of walls make sense too. … As I see it most materials are from off-world sources, with the notable exception of organics… One may envision a multi-system colonization ship, somewhat akin to the “Space Shuttle’s” reusability, some will settle, and some shall continue for other destinations; let’s do this right.

    Propulsion: An initial marked ‘acceleration period’ is a must to shorten travel time… it shall be probably greater than 1g and that without the sur-heating problematics, ie: let’s be a tad optimistic about our future technological developments, for as science history teaches: wondrous breakthrough surprises abound! … And what about twisting the ship around for deceleration, ’emergency deceleration’ and manoeuvering, for we must be prepared and capacited for situational problems? (Oort object dead ahead, Sir…) etc.

    – 1000-2000 crew as amply sufficient and that figure of Minimum Viable Population (MVP) can certainly be streamlined; a small and complex enough “flying village”, and this implies including also not just ‘the best and brightest’ individuals, to keep appropriate human relations that are intrinsic to our societies. DNA can be informatively banked and later replicated, yet I am very unsure about it’s viability for a pristine human (& animal) population, for plants we have seeds…

    Multipurpose vegetation is a sine qua non. Yes, some wood and stone in an Earth park, where the travellers can touch base with live materials from back home, and hopefully show to their offspring during the gruelling long journey,
    circulating about the ship a heat and light circadian effect: what imports here is that the astraunaut’s body remembers as much as possible of actually being upon a planet, all the while slowly shifting towards the destination planet’s gravity, circadian cycle and even atmosphere.

    (“I tend to favor more simplistic designs”; let’s say optimized.)

    “a balance of natural grown and lab grown food”: the whole ship is a lab in a sense, so subdivions of concepts aren’t always the way to go, yet variety is the very stuff of life… ex.: different biomes: rain, desert, swamp, farm, forest… which comes back to wood and rock, therefore shipping out into space precious pieces of mother earth.

    Robotics will be a ubiquitous implementations in space.

    Human health and ship hygiene are primordial, yet even a tiny fraction of molds, for example, are probably necessary to strike a proper balance in the ‘life-quarters’, and of conceiving of original and proper ways to cleanse the place up shall be a must.

    “It may take decades, centuries”, I’d say that at the start of the upcoming century sometime, all basic tech. & resources shall converge into the vessel’s preparedness and casting away.

    Various shielding types ought to be implemented, armour, ‘magnetic plasma field’, particle beam ‘dissolvers’, and who knows what else for survival in deep space through the Interstellar medium and upon unknown planets?

    There certainly some unknown factors upon the way, and wouldn’t it be better to have assured destinations before throwing ourselves somewhere? … thus the need for preliminary robotic probe exploration and surveying. These units should look ‘like something’ in the unknown rare case of exo-intelligence encounter.

    “How about a second level below living quarters that hold living ecosystems? Water would sink to the bottom of these ecosystems in large reservoirs and serve as a barrier against harmful cosmic radiation.” I like that, let’s use all, or most for extra spare cargo area. sounds good to me to have extra available volume. !!! We cannot use the water supply as buffer radiation shielding… unless there is loads of extra that we evacuate the water (ice) like a sub and/or burn it as propellant on the way… This water driven design opens other conceptual venues.

    JohnHunt’s intervention is worth noting, and boils down to keeping reasonable proportions anout everything. For example: ‘WorldShips’ should to be built from non-sentient exo-planets/asteroïds non-organic materials Only. I feel that the Rama project mentioned by David Good is too huge, what happened to Adam&Eve?, and in particular let’s keep in mind resources considerations, and their displacements.

    “I think that an awake functioning human crew is the only realistic way forward”, which of course, does not exclude hibernation features. 😉 ‘Go to sleep now.’

    The projected table of volumetric usage in the presentation paper is somewhat off, for it all depends on priorities, lifestyle types, etc.

    An open-source popular simulation game certainly makes economic and developmental sense.

    Systems sensors and automatic on-board repair are a whole other area that require much R&D.

    “Sending fuel supplies ahead of main vehicle for en-route re-fuelling.” … or for blasting a way through the Solar System’s ‘shell’; sounds touchy and archaïc, and necessitates reliable projections of Oort cloud, et al., movements…

    In-situ harvesting will prove to be absolutely essential; which implies proper propulsion and navigation (again!).

    Bon Voyage!

    ~ Mark Lummis.

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  38. Tom says:

    How many people do you envision this ship would transport? How many would be needed to fly it? What animals do you see it carrying with it?

  39. April May says:

    Wow! How can I get in this Spaceship? I just love this idea! (I also tell it to my parents when I was five, but they just laugh) It’s so great! I love it, I want to write a book about it! A billion of people HAVE to see this!!! How can I go to space???

  40. Jake says:

    The concepts in the paper and the comments are truly fascinating. I would like to suggest the use of 3d printers in the role of making parts and such in transit, it would seem that with this current and hopefully more advanced technology perhaps agriculture wouldn’t be so necessary in the short to medium term future.

    I also agree that this ship requires several decades of development in our solar system to work out kinks and bugs in the main systems and subsystems for keeping humans alive in space for extended periods. I believe that there could be serious social upheaval if your target population of 10K people share such a limited amount of space for decades or centuries even with the inclusion of “natural” environments. The probabilities of mental illness or congenital disorders could increase with the time spent on the ship. I have seen nothing to address this situation or the probability addiction to various things that could be aboard the ship ie: alcohol, pain killers and perhaps contraband of some sort. Those are my 2 cents I hope that it shed some light on the human condition not only on the ship but here on Earth as well.

  41. Walmart Security says:

    Nice work. Would be nice to test some design features in space now.

    Lots of good points brought up in the comments as well.

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  43. TONYNESCI says:

    Lateral acceleration wouldn’t interrupt the normalcy of the perceived gravity on board if there were two propulsion systems. One at each end of the centreline “axle…thrust canted at the same 90 degree abgle…is all it takes.

  44. JH Byrne says:

    A lot of people in these commentaries share a basic premise: that ‘we’ get to determine the course of how any colonists on a GenShip will interact.
    For instance, numerous posts suggest that for humans to be ‘happy’, they must have conditions that we are familiar with.

    I suggest an alternative: once a colony ship is launched, that’s it. You don’t get to suggest anything more about what the colonists should/should not want or be like. The farther the colony ship gets from Earth, the more self-reliant it must be, the more independent minded it must be.

    All notions of what is moral, sane, livable, desirable, etc mean nothing.

    For instance: many people want something which is similar to environments which they are familiar with on Earth. O’Neil had his neighborhoods, Summerford (the initial thread author, above) has a variation on that, with various communities in the rotating bays resembling suburban Yuppie parks, circa 2010.

    If I was a colonist on such a ship, I don’t want to live in a cubicle box. Why, for instance, do I even need a roof? Sure, some commentaries say that the bay has ‘rain’ or snow, the better to make me ‘feel at home’. Whose home?

    Of course, my ideas of what might be appropriate on a space colony GenShip are no more valid than Summerfords. I suppose that Summerford’s yuppie condos concept would be very popular with the first generation of colonists, who are familiar with Starbucks and mini-malls from their own previous life on Earth. But what about their children?

    I’m really arguing for flexibility.

    Don’t pre-build much. Have empty bays, to allow room for expansions, or different concepts of ‘living space’. It seems to me that the only real ‘limit’ is that the bays must contain roughly the same mass — how that mass is distributed inside the bay should be up to the colonists themselves.

    Afterall, what are you going to DO with your time, if you’re stuck on a GenShip for 50-100 years? For reliability’s sake, it’s probably best to have the ship’s essential functions (from piloting to life-support) be on auto-pilot anyway.

    The ‘crew’ would, in this theory, spend its time designing improvements to the ship (such as creating a new living space inside Bay #D, etc).

    These colonists would, in theory, be uniquely motivated to develop technologies (such as gene therapies, materials science, low-G engineering, etc). More than parkland, they need space to expand conceptually.

    We also have to dismiss the notion that once arriving at Planet X, the colonists would look anything like us. Why should they? Our own physical forms are the result of millions of years of Earthside evolution, adapted to live on Earth, under Earth conditions. Change the conditions, change the basic premises of what it means to be ‘human’.

    Why should GenShippers be concerned with Earthside ethics as to whether it is moral to have frozen embryoes, etc?

    Who needs traditional religion on a GenShip? Who needs traditional laws? If you break it down, so much of our society as we know it is developed from life AS WE KNOW IT.

    Break it simple: what’s the point of going to church on Sunday, if you’re on a GenShip? For that matter, what’s a ‘Sunday’? The notion that God created everything, etc, doesn’t mean much when your personal world is entirely man-made, and outside is just an endless hard vaccuum. Follow the implications, just a little bit, and you may come to the same conclusions: once a GenShip is beyond Earth’s immediate neighborhood, all connection to what is familiar ends, so it seems to me that the best, most sustainable model is one that makes the GenShippers as self-reliant, and self-determinative, as possible.

    For this reason, it also seems to me that the LAST thing you want to do is keep up communication with a GenShip. Why inflict the GenShip with Earthside problems (ie, what are the GenShippers to do, if there is a war on Earth… should they take sides against one another?). For that matter, Earth might be better off without messages from the GenShip either. One note, above, posted the notion that GenShippers could send back discoveries or inventions. Why should they do that? How do they get ‘paid’? If they are paid by bartering new technologies back and forth, how do you assure that the new technologies won’t upset the social balance on the GenShip, etc?

    This brings up a further problem: IF it is unwise to continue communications with a multi-generation colony ship, then what is the point of building the ship in the first place?

    Ultimately, we humans in the 21st century have to figure out a way to justify the expense.

    Either the cost of building a GenShip has to be dramatically less, or the risk of not building one has to be substantially higher.

  45. Hi JH

    I actually agree with most of your thoughts on the living spaces and think it’s great to see so many ideas and so much discussion posited. While your right, we don’t need roofs per se, they’re really the derivative function of these planar elements acting as floors. Vertical living would be a must in an environment where area is a premium. As for the upper most floor, sure, it doesn’t need a roof.

    A critical feature contained within my writing (perhaps not clear in the abridged version) would be to allow the colonists the freedom to reconfigure and evolve their living space as they please. Upon leaving earth, they will need to be provided with all the raw materials they’ll need- so it makes sense to develop a modular architectural system that lends to creative repurposing. The other factor to consider is that a form of gravity and it’s loads on structures will still be present, so modern day earthly architectural structure practices are largely relevant (notwithstanding the ability to engage support from the exoskeleton roof structure).

    Thanks for the comments and thoughts!
    Steve Summerford

  46. JH Byrne says:

    Hello, Steve.

    Let’s reconsider some of your commentary. You state that you need to ‘stack’, to save space (vertical construction), therefore you opt for floors, which create roofs.
    This post is NOT about architecture, but about the assumptions behind the assumptions.
    For instance: you are positing a flight of, say 100 years. Alright. This is presumeably a set number, and cannot be altered due to technological ‘real’ constraints. I presume that a ‘crew’ that considered itself ‘stuck’ on an interstellar flight would want to shorten the flight as much as possible, and would therefore have an extreme incentive to figure out improvements for their engine… but this is a digression. Sure, they MIGHT make faster drives while their ship is travelling, but that is beyond the scope of consideration of flight time at time-of-launch.

    More to the point is that 100 year flight era.

    There are, at first glance, two points for consideration.

    One is that the presumed colonists would recognize that they are on a ‘flight’, moving from X to Y. I suppose this is because we humans of Planet Terra are fixated on the months long voyages of the 15th-18th century; voyages where the initial voyagers would live long enough to arrive. This is NOT that case. Here, the voyagers must not consider themselves voyagers: they must consider themselves ‘free flighters’ or ship people, or somesuch: the ship is their home for the rest of their lives, and their grandchildrens lives. On first entering the ship, they have ‘arrived’ — otherwise, why go?
    It’s ironic that the people most capable of surviving on a GenShip are NOT the ones who are best suited for any sort of eventual planetfall.
    Long term GenShippers are already ‘home’. Getting to Planet X isn’t their concern. Instead, they might see Planet X, not as the next best hope of humanity, but as a cauldron of diseases, uncertainty, filthy conditions, gravity, damp weather, etc. Why should GenShippers be excited to leave the safe, secure, sanitary and controlled environment of a GenShip for the insecurity of a planet, even a potential ‘New Eden’? What’s in it for the GenShippers?

    Also: reconsider the imperative to have 1000 colonists. Why 1000-2000? Some say ‘for genetic diversity’. Well, why do we need genetic diversity? It’s a response to changing climatic/environmental conditions. If the environment does not change (ie, climate control), and there are no sustained threats to the population, then you don’t need ‘genetic diversity’ at all. Your ship might contain, not 1000+ moving people, but perhaps just 50, with a large genetic library of stored zygotes. If there is a problem, and you need more people for any reason, there isn’t a gene pool, but gene stocks.
    Consider also that in a controlled environment, there are not a lot of ‘random’ events, like plagues, or even the common cold (for instance, do you really want to send your colonists on a 100 year mission, without first eliminating things such as viruses, mosquitoes, etc). Less endemic diseases/maladies = less stress on living systems = longer lives. Even in 2015, people commonly live to their 90s (and this in a world which is filled with bacteria, viruses, childhood malnutrition, stress, etc). On a climate controlled ship, people might live to age 120-150? More? Who knows?

    So: I say, instead of presuming a ship made to ‘voyage’ for 1000 people, what if your ship was instead a ‘home in the stars’ with a crew of 50, and a genetic archive?

    It doesn’t necessarily mean a smaller ship. After all, larger the ship, the more capable the crew would be to make the transition to a world if/when they finally arrive (while paradoxically, the less they would ‘need’ to disembark).

    Summation: this site is all about asking essential questions related to HOW humans MIGHT be able to travel to another star. However, we humans of the 21st century are blinded by our contemporary concepts — it is easy to subconsciously adopt various assumptions on the nature of interstellar flight, and analogize with what we are familiar with. Generally, discussions/prototypes of interstellar ships wind up being some space faring version of a giant ocean liner (like the Queen Mary or Titanic). The result is a chimera creation resulting in a ‘BattleStar Galactica’ interpretation of what we imagine a star faring humanity might be.

    But, there are other ways to get across distances. Polynesians did it with small outriggers, and time. Fletcher Christian and friends failed: although they made the trip, their culture failed them in the end. Vinlandia failed. Roanoke failed. Why?

    I suspect that it was because these last three were ‘destination’ voyages — and when the destination was found wanting, the colony failed. Polynesian voyages were simply a part of life — if the destination was lacking, it wasn’t hard for the voyagers to shrug, get back in their outriggers, and move on.

    So: how do we design a ship that is the destination in itself? You, Steve… what ship would YOU want to spend the rest of your life on? What can we learn from permanent nomads?

  47. JH Byrne says:

    Hello Again, Steve.

    My commentaries may seem overly critical. They’re not intended to be. But, I am suggesting a rethink of basic premises:

    That a successful interstellar ship is transportation for a large colony of people trying to move from Point A to Point B.

    That is a recipe for disaster.


    The ‘ship’ which is built around this premise is treating the population on board as cargo. The people themselves are presumed to desperately want to disembark to a New Eden. The New Eden is ready to receive them. The colonists themselves are able to adapt and make New Eden their home. Etc, etc.

    Just what are our best models from history? Consider that the closest thing we humans of Planet Earth have for comparison are the voyages of the ‘Age of Exploration’, circa 1450-1850 — voyages lasting months at a time. The original entrants to the voyages were on a transport for months at a time, with poor conditions. Many didn’t make it (disease, scurvy, infighting, etc). But, at least the original entrants KNEW that they would evenutally disembark. Their misery would be justified by resettlement in a better place.

    Alternatively, we have instances of initial isolated colonies and expeditions (De Soto, Coronado, Easter Island, Vinlandia, Greenland, Roanoke, Pitcairn, etc). Most isolated colonies failed. Why? What do you do if you’re a member of a failed colony? What if the better place you settled in becomes a death-trap? WHY did it become a death-trap?

    Finally, other historical analogs to consider: Polynesians, Amerinds, Mongols… permanent semi-nomads. Their colonies might have failed, but they succeeded on a civilizational scale, if not on a local scale. There was always another small, self-sufficient tribe to take the place of a tribe that failed. This is an argument for redundancy… and a counter-argument AGAINST the ‘Great Ark’ model of colonization.

    While we’re at it: consider the challenges faced by people who are ‘shut in’ 24 hours a day, for months or years at a time. I’m talking about submarine crews (who go a little stir crazy after 6 months — that’s why even nuclear subs don’t stay out for 5 year missions).
    Or,consider the cultures of long-term prisoners. They’re stuck in a 12′ x 12′ cell for 22-23 hours a day, for years. What sort of societies do they have?

    Now combine all of these elements together.

    Also: don’t forget the voyage time… even assuming a fast speed of .05 light speed (at best, with current technology) there are still problems. Say that New Eden is 5 light years away. You have a top ‘speed’ of .05 light. That number is illusory. A large ship would take a LONG time to accelerate up to that velocity. There is the problem of midspace navigational hazards (ie, extra-solar bodies, such as gas giants or planetoids that are NOT part of a stellar system, but float invisibly between them — no light, you can’t detect them). But, they’re out there… the Oort Cloud is just the beginning ‘reef’ that we know of. Finally, even presuming you can get to 5% of light speed, and navigate around interstellar bodies along the way, you then have to decelerate for an equal amount of time. This translates to a concept that a ‘New Eden’ that is 5 light years away would likely be a trip of 300+ years… at best.

    We’re stuck with a series of massive problems that are far beyond the technological issues.

    How do we ‘encourage’ (because it is impossible to ‘ensure’) that a population we send in 2050 is still stable, fit, and capable to disembark onto New Eden in 2350 or later?

    The ship must be in it for the voyage itself. The only population I can think of (with my own 21st century preconceptions) is that of a population of (religious?) zealots who consider the ship to be a sort of flying temple. As humans are now pyschologically conditioned, only religious zealotry has the capacity to keep people dedicated and stable (at the cost of creating a completely stagnant society). In other words, Pilgrims might be able to make a 100 year voyage by instituting strict thought control/doctrine combined with faith in a promised land as part of a theological based society.

    Some would posit that hyper dedication might be possible without religion. So far, that hasn’t worked in human history (communism, for instance, generally dies out on its own after 2-3 generations — what’s left is a deeply cynical, disillusioned population — just look at the fate of the USSR, Cuba, N Korea, China, Cambodia, etc).

    If religious theocracy or communist doctrine thought control won’t work to ensure population stability over 20 generations, what will?

    How do you ‘encourage’ generation 4, 5, 10, 14, etc, to keep up the faith? If you can do so, how do you encourage them to leave the safety/sanctity of the ship after 15 generations?

    Returning to the example of the Polynesians: what if, instead of a large ‘Space Ark’ of 1000-10,000 colonists, you instead send out a dozen colony seedships of 50-100 crew, with capacity for resource exploitation wherever they go, and genetic archives to expand as necessary/useful?

    Such seedships are not necessarily small: the ICS concept for a big ship might still apply, to afford potential for growth. More importantly, a seedship should have the capacity to exploit resources as it goes along: fuel/ore processors, industrial facilities, fabrictors, etc. Much of the actual work of a very large craft can be automated. The point of on-board fabricators/resource exploitation capabilities is range, and time. If a seedship is able to meander through space, moving from asteroid to comet to extrasolar body (gas giants/planetoids/brown dwarfs), it has time to wander.

    A seedship that can wander is never ‘lost in space’. That’s the point. If, by some miracle, the seedship comes across a New Eden along the way, colonization is an option, not an existential necessity.

    So, Steve: here’s my challenge: design a ship that is NOT an Ark, but a wandering factory ship.

  48. Pingback: Las ciudades que colonizarán la Galaxia | Mediavelada

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