Colonized Interstellar Vessel: Conceptual Master Planning

Colonized Interstellar Vessel: Conceptual Master Planning


(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.

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