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  • Writer's pictureMatt Russell

#146 - RAMA - Space Habitats Part 4

This week we have a run down of possible space habitats, how on earth ...or more precisely how "off earth" can you provide the materials and the tools to build these things. With an in depth look at Made In Space's RAMA project.

We take a look at some of the space news, with ESA DJs, a flaring super-massive blackhole, Chandrayaan-2 trip to the moon, Franklin in trouble, massive parachutes

so strap in for podcast 146

"There's a beautiful, perfect order to life on earth that's so mysterious and so profound. Yet as people ...We're so dysfunctional. And we seek guidance from the heavens, to help us understand our purpose here, and to create a sense of order."

Sufjan Stevens

Stuart Allen "Stu" Roosa (August 16, 1933 – December 12, 1994),

The ginger Mike Collins!!

Col., USAF, was an American aeronautical engineer, United States Air Force pilot, test pilot, and NASA astronaut, who was the Command Module Pilot for the Apollo 14 mission. The mission lasted from January 31 to February 9, 1971 and was the third mission to land astronauts (Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell) on the Moon. While Shepard and Mitchell spent two days on the lunar surface, Roosa conducted experiments from orbit in the Command Module Kitty Hawk. He was one of 24 men to travel to the Moon, which he orbited 34 times

17 August

1933 - On Aug. 17, The group of Soviet engineers from GIRD (Group for Investigation of Reactive Motion) successfully fired the first Soviet rocket burning liquid oxygen. The GIRD-09 experimental vehicle, (Rocket Projectile No. 9) flew for 18 seconds and reached around 400 meters in altitude before crashing back to Earth. Rocket Projectile No. 9, The development of Vehicle 09 was centered at GIRD's Design Brigade No. 2 led by Mikhail Klavdievich Tikhonravov (pictured) under the leadership of Sergei Korolev. Really a hybrid rocket beacuse the propelland was a Jelly like version of petrol (gasoline) known as "solid benzene"

A book I want to find!

Mikhail Tikhonravov - Reaching Asteroids, Ideas of Tsiolkovsky and Modern Age, 1979

Russia's first Liquid Rocket.  with Jelly Petrol Power.


Space News Catch-up.

How did the DJ and Equipment get on-board ISS ...something fishy here?

Space is the theme of this year’s Stockholm Culture Festival. Highlights of opening night included the world premiere of the multimedia experience ‘Space Station Earth’, as well as a live DJ set with Luca Parmitano on the International Space Station and in-person appearances by ESA astronauts Tim Peake and Thomas Reiter

Flying the flag for BIS

Tim Peake: will take an unpaid leave of absence from ESA for two years from 1 October 2019. for personal and career development.

While continuing to support ESA he will work more closely with the United Kingdom Space Agency (UKSA) education and outreach also his (STEM) ambassador for the UK, Prince’s Trust and Scout ambassador, but NOTT In 2016, ESA Director General Jan Wörner stated his intention that all astronauts in the class of 2009 will fly twice by 2024.

Close shave

On 25 July, an asteroid the size of a football field flew by Earth, coming within 65 000 km of our planet’s surface during its closest approach – about one fifth of the distance to the Moon. The 100 m-wide asteroid dubbed '2019 OK' was detected just days before it passed Earth, although archival records from sky surveys show it had previously been observed but wasn't recognized as a near-Earth asteroid. Would have been a once in a 10,000 year event with the potential to be as powerful as the 50 mt Tzar Bomba. An estimated 30,000 of these bugger are yet to be found.

Franklin in trouble!!!

We might see the Franklin rover launch in 2022 now due to pesky parachute problems

The Nasa Russell Rover (or Mars 2020) I assume they will call it the Russell rover after esteemed astronomer Henry Norris Russell? Will still be on time.

Sizes of key components of the ExoMars 2020 mission

The ESA Franklin rover parachute is The largest-ever space parachute! As far as I can tell,

at 115 feet (35 meters) across, weighs almost 200 lbs. (90 kilograms) and is equipped with 3 miles (5 kilometers) of cords. it takes five working days to prepare and fold the parachute into its correct configuration.

Curiosity’s parachute was only 16m across ...half the size!!! And was th biggest space parachute ever.

ATK tested the 1 tonne 45 metre parachutes for ares 1 booster return!!! I think that must be the biggest? Unless you know otherwise.

All change with small sats as SpaceX and Soyuz enter the market with regular rideshare missions and Vector Space look like they are now dead in the water!!

  • August 7, 2019, the company was awarded its first U.S. Air Force mission, to launch the ASLON-45 spacecraft for $3.4 million

  • August 9, 2019, Cantrell left as the company began widespread layoffs, John Garvey becomes CEO.

Rocket Lab Electron looks like it’s going to go reusable!!! I wonder if this was how Orbex were going to do it?

Orbex sign deals: Witbh Netherlands-based company ISL one of the world’s leading players in smallsat launches and In-Space, the UK military and commercial space initiatives company for a 2022 Launcho f Faraday-2b satellite!!!


Chinese startup linkspace has done a 3rd successful rocket hop test. Europe now behind SpaceX, Blue Origin, Long March 8, Rocket Labs, and Linkspace.

Tardigrades may have made it to the moon on the Bersheet lander!!

Dehydrated to place them in suspended animation, then “encased in an epoxy of Artificial Amber, and should be revivable in the future”. The tardigrades were stored inside a “Lunar Library”, a nanotechnology device that resembles a DVD and contains a 30-million-page archive of human history view-able under microscopes, as well as human DNA.

Indian moon shot starting proper

Chandrayaan-2 has been orbiting the earth on an orbit that takes it to an altitude of 142,975km from the Earth at the farthest point (apogee) and brings its as close as 276km at the nearest point (perigee), but has sucsesfully done an engine burn to take it to Lunar transfer to be caught by moon gravity by August 20th and land september 7th.

Mission sequence showing Chandrayaan-2’s trajectory. Image via ISRO.

The Air Force's X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle mission 4 landed at NASA 's Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility May 7, 2017. Managed by the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, the X-37B program is the newest and most advanced re-entry spacecraft that performs risk reduction, experimentation and concept of operations development for reusable space vehicle technologies.
X-37B OTV4 landed at Kennedy Space Center

The x37b has past 700 days up there doing dod knows what. ...testing American liquid metal nuclear propulsion ??

JWST might be able to do some amazing atmosphere detection of trappist 1 system in it’s first year. All assuming it doesn’t blow up on the launch pad. In a paper published in the astronmical journla titled, The Detectability and Characterization of the TRAPPIST-1 Exoplanet Atmospheres with JWST by Jacob Lustig-Yaeger, Victoria S. Meadow, and Andrew P. Lincowski

Basically using computer models to see what types of terrestrial exoplanet atmospheres can be detected in the smallest ammoun of transits of each planet with JWST. Nice bit of ground work to speed things up, get that lost observation time back.

This artist's concept shows what the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system may look like, based on available data about the planets' diameters, masses and distances from the host star.

Blackhole Flare up (via Tuan Do of UCLA on twitter)

Depending on your point of view, this happened either on May 13, 2019 UT or 26,000 years ago. @keck observatory saw the supermassive black hole Sgr A*. The black hole is always variable, but this was the brightest in the infrared by double for 20 years of observation!!! It was probably even brighter before observing that night! Maybe that gas from the object G2 which went through closest approach in 2014 took a while to get to the black hole, may be from changes in the accretion-flow as a result of the star S0-2's closest passage to the black hole in 2018. Could be big!!! Stay tuned on this one!

Must see video of MsTree catching the fairing!!! Of a rare expended Falcon 9


So how do we make space habitats? ...manufacturing in space!

Bit of history- Have you ever heard of ZBLAN?

Heavy metal fluoride glasses were accidentally discovered in 1975 by Poulain and Lucas at the University of Rennes in France, including a family of glasses ZBLAN with a composition zirconium barium lanthanum aluminum Sodium

This makes the best Fibre optical cable you can get, and is seriously useful in furthering our technical capability, but you can best make it better in space by far, because of Zero G, and Made in Space actually "3d print" or Pull ZBLAN on the iss. Making it probably the first true industrial process in space, so along with it’s other microwave sized device the first commercially available 3D printer in space, the AMF, they are the bollox in space industrial engineering.

"For Made In Space, projects like RAMA that exist somewhere near the edges of our product roadmaps help drive all our closer term work in the right direction. For all of us in the US, we are lucky to have an agency like NASA, which has the vision to continue to fund NIAC and other programs that will define the future resiliency of our species"

Jason Dunn. Co-founder & CTO of Made In Space

Artist Concept of an Asteroid Spacecraft created by the RAMA architecture. Artwork by Zoe Brinkley.

A NASA NIAC (innovative advanced Concepts) report - RAMA - reconstituting Asteroids into Mexhanical Automata

The objective of this study is for Made In Space (MIS) to establish the concept feasibility of using the age-old technique of analog computers and mechanisms to convert entire asteroids into enormous autonomous mechanical spacecraft

“It has long been understood that harnessing the mass of the asteroids and using it to manufacture equipment outside of Earth’s gravity well would be an enabler of the space frontier”. Wow.

“For now, the cost to mine these asteroids is far more expensive than the cost of extracting equivalent resources from Earth. But that will not always be true. In the next few decades, the convergences of several exponentially accelerating technologies are expected to dramatically reduce costs for space resource mining endeavors. Logically there will be a tipping point when it will become economically feasible to switch to an off-world resource extraction and mining paradigm.”

Made In space made the report to address

  • Issues with Building Space based Infrastructure

  • The need for Space based resources: How do you get at all these reources just lying around in space

  • Launch and propulsion

  • Data collection and asteroid detection

  • Remotely mining asteroids without the need for humans

  • Miniaturization

  • Generative design algorithms

  • Transportation of asteroid resources – This core-unsolved problem is the focus of the Project RAMA Phase I study. - RAMA architecture, which turns asteroids into self-contained spacecraft capable of moving themselves back to cislunar space

Currently “Space Industry” means using space to produce data, not physical products (i.e. telecommunications, remote sensing, Earth observation)

Made In Space believes that space will become a useful place to produce physical goods. Microgravity (and partial artificial gravity) will be used to precisely control the manufacturing of products made from exotic materials and manufacturing processes that on Earth rely on the costly use of inert gasses will be moved to space

The concept in a nutshell: what would it take to turn asteroids into self-powered spacecraft?

RAMA : The concept is based on a “Seed Craft”; a spacecraft which contains technically sophisticated ISRU, Additive Manufacturing and robotic capabilities. The Seed Craft uses these capabilities to convert the available materials of an asteroids into spacecraft subsystems including propulsion, energy storage and guidance systems.

The asteroid (now a spacecraft in its own right) is able to autonomously carry out a basic mission; such as relocation for easier future rendezvous, or to divert to a more useful location of empty space.

Meanwhile, the Seed Craft which initiated the transformation is free to plot a course to the next asteroid, repeating the RAMA process indefinitely

However, the technology doesn’t exist, but MIS anticipate ten to twenty years from now they will be developed to a technology readiness level high enough for the initial RAMA missions

The BIG IDEA! RAMA makes use of materials found at the asteroid for mass intensive tasks (like providing reaction mass for the propulsion systems), a greater mass can be returned for equivalent mass launched, so the “useless” materials on the asteroid is put to good use in the RAMA concept as structural support and propellant reaction mass

Taken to the extreme, the RAMA architecture enables a train of mechanically driven, asteroid spacecraft, “mine carts,” stretching from the depths of the asteroid belt to the Earth-Moon system. “free rides” to interplanetary space and back. Over time, you convert these into sophisticated vehicles fit for human habitation; or fit them with sensors as research platforms to map other asteroids.

Ultimately RAMA will create a system that will give humanity access to safer, faster and cheaper options for accessing the wealth of resources in our solar system.

Finding Asteroids -

Very Little information can be gathered about asteroids, from telescopic observations alone

Large asteroids have enough gravity that even if they are loosely packed they hold together when spinning, smaller one must be solid if they are spinning and still holding together, different types require different techniques, so it’s important to categorize them

Next to diameter, the most important property of an asteroid is arguably its mass, which is impossible to measure from the ground. Until the asteroid is visited by a spacecraft, details like its mass can only be guessed at

Common Types (but a spectrum in reality)

Dark C (carbonaceous) asteroids, which make up most asteroids and are in the outer belt. less common near Earth orbit. lower density, and a higher prevalence of organic compounds, water-ice and other volatiles.

Bright S (silicaceous) asteroids and are in the inner belt, closer to Mars.The most common near Earth object type, stony/metallic composition with very little water-ice or volatiles.

Bright M (metallic) asteroids. Psyche 16 being the mother of them all!

RAMA it self

The Case for a “Mechanical” Spacecraft - think The Antikythera - if Archimedes can do it 2000 years ago ...why not

An asteroid converted into a giant mechanical spacecraft could one day fly itself to a mining outpost. Artwork by Brad Kohlenberg

Propulsion systems to move 100-meter asteroids are too large to launch, but can be built in-situ as mechanical mass drivers;

flywheels for attitude control are too heavy to launch, but could be constructed within an asteroid to control its spin rate and store energy.

It is also possible to create mechanical computation devices for spacecraft that could perform basic avionics-style routines. For missions that require independence from Earth, with no supply of Earth made electronics, the creation of basic mechanical computers may serve as an alternative.

To Bring or not to bring? That is the question

Clearly, propulsion is a capability that is better provided from asteroid resources than communications or computing power, bringing propulsion from Earth would more than double the mass of the Seed craft for even a modestly sized 5m asteroid, and would be completely impossible for an asteroid in the target 50-100m range for RAMA. Up to the designer of future RAMA concepts to perform the Bring vs. Build tradeoff for a given asteroid

Example RAMA Process (RAMA -1)

2038, the RAMA Seed Craft will use electric propulsion and gravity assists to fly towards and intercept Near Earth Asteroid 2009 UY19, 36-163 meters wide, and will be within 15 Lunar Distances of Earth in 2039 and approximately every 33 years thereafter.

  1. The RAMA Seed Craft analyzes the asteroid, and begins effectively organizing available in-situ resources.

  2. The asteroid is broken down and materials are stockpiled as manufacturing feedstocks, as well as viable “waste” mass for propellant. (techniques pioneered by the NASA KSC Swampworks team and industry asteroid mining initiatives)

  3. Mechanical energy storage systems are also fabricated on the asteroid, and charged with power from the Seed Craft.

  4. Seed Craft assembles a unique array of mechanical linkages for the asteroid from ISRU derived components. These will allow for timing and control of the asteroids systems after the Seed Craft has departed for the next target.

  5. When the Seed Crafts departs, it triggers the asteroid’s carefully pre-programmed sequence of events, which sets the asteroid on its own path to return to cislunar space without the Seed Craft., Putting it on a new course to the Earth-Moon L5 point where asteroid mining activity is underway, and waiting for the RAMA-1 resources. The seedcraft goes on to build RAMA-2

  6. Easily intercepted using conventional techniques (remember ARM)

A really cool output From the study is Rockfinder

A tool they have developed to find the asteroids in the first place, Asteroids that are suitable for the RAMA system. :

The goal is for Rock Finder to be integrated into a single code library or browser application with a cleaner front end that would allow the process to be duplicated by anyone interested in utilization of asteroid resources. Using the software keeping an eye on discoveries potentially as disruptive to a future asteroid mining industry as a gold or oil boom in the 1800’s, could seriously assist any one who makes their fortunes on the asteroid mining sector,

Spacecraft Capability:

Flying through space like a giant jelly fish!!!

Swimming through space like a jelly fish

Using giant metallic slings to fly RAMA spacecraft looks similar to a jellyfish swimming through the ocean currents

  • The Seed Craft uses its own propulsion system to provide a series of forward “kicks” to the asteroid. These kicks impart no significant ΔV, but are properly timed to match the fundamental frequency of the 16 extended slings protruding from the asteroid.

  • The slings begin to oscillate back and forth, and after 3 days of continuous kicks, the slings are rocking back and forth with a high enough amplitude to be bend all the way back to the asteroid’s surface. The slenderness ratio of the slings (250:1) is large enough to remain fully elastic when bent this far, allowing it to continue to oscillate like a pendulum with only thermal losses.

  • The Seed Craft, its decades long task complete, disengages from the asteroid and departs for its next target.

  • The slings, once set in motion, oscillate at a period of 2.1 seconds, and at the peak of their swing, the tips are travelling at 312 m/s, achieving the theoretical maximum velocity of the material. At the extreme of each swing, the tip of the sling passes close to the exit ports near the asteroid’s equator, where extremely strong rare Earth magnets on the tip of each sling adhere to a single 10 kg shot. The strength of the permanent magnet on the tip and the remnant magnetism if the shot is calibrated such that the adhesion strength is exceeded exactly at the full extension of the swing, where the centrifugal force is maximized, hurling the shot astern of the asteroid at 312 m/s, and imparting a small but non-trivial 13 microns/sec ΔV onto the asteroid.

  • At full “throttle”, with all slings operating, the asteroid accelerates at a constant 11 micro-gs.


Asteroid deflection and planetary protection!

Calculations by Metzger et al. suggest that some NEOs would be too massive to alter their course using conventional chemical propulsion alone While this study has not focused on planetary protection applications, there is room for an interesting future study on using RAMA to reduce the mass of a potentially hazardous super massive NEOs, until it they fall within the bounds of current deflection technologies

Human Exploration Missions

Rather than using this RAMA mission for delivery of an asteroid to a space resource processing facility at L5, it could instead be sent to L5 to be outfitted with large solar arrays, communication infrastructure and terraformed internally with a pressurized atmosphere to become a space habitat for human deep space exploration. A new class of human exploration missions could ensue in which the astronauts spend many years within the RAMA space habitat, while it journeys throughout the solar system.


Some NASA concept studies include:

As discussed last week

Island One, a Bernal sphere habitat for about 10,000–20,000 people.

Stanford torus: an alternative to Island One.

O'Neill cylinder: "Island Three", an even larger design (3.2 km radius and 32 km long).

Lewis One; A cylinder of radius 250 m with a non rotating radiation shielding. The shielding protects the micro-gravity industrial space, too. The rotating part is 450m long and has several inner cylinders. Some of them are used for agriculture.

Kalpana One, A short cylinder with 250 m radius and 325 m length. The radiation shielding is 10 t/m2 and rotates. It has several inner cylinders for agriculture and recreaction It is sized for 3,000 residents.

A bola: a spacecraft or habitat connected by a cable to a counterweight or other habitat. This design has been proposed as a Mars ship, initial construction shack for a space habitat, and Orbital hotel. It has a comfortably long and slow rotational radius for a relatively small station mass. Also, if some of the equipment can form the counter-weight, the equipment dedicated to artificial gravity is just a cable, and thus has a much smaller mass-fraction than in other concepts. For a long-term habitation, however, radiation shielding must rotate with the habitat, and is extremely heavy, thus requiring a much stronger and heavier cable

Beaded habitats: This speculative design was also considered by the NASA studies. Small habitats would be mass-produced to standards that allow the habitats to interconnect. A single habitat can operate alone as a bola. However, further habitats can be attached, to grow into a "dumbbell" then a "bow-tie", then a ring, then a cylinder of "beads", and finally a framed array of cylinders. Each stage of growth shares more radiation shielding and capital equipment, increasing redundancy and safety while reducing the cost per person. This concept was originally proposed by a professional architect because it can grow much like Earth-bound cities, with incremental individual investments, unlike those that require large start-up investments. The main disadvantage is that the smaller versions use a large structure to support the radiation shielding, which rotates with them. In large sizes, the shielding becomes economical, because it grows roughly as the square of the colony radius. The number of people, their habitats, and the radiators to cool them grow roughly as the cube of the colony radius

Bubbleworld: Dandridge M. Cole in 1964. The concept calls for drilling a tunnel through the longest axis of a large asteroid of iron or nickel-iron composition and filling it with a volotile substance, possibly water. A very large solar reflector would be constructed nearby, focusing solar heat onto the asteroid, first to weld and seal the tunnel ends, then more diffusely to slowly heat the entire outer surface. As the metal softens, the water inside expands and inflates the mass, while rotational forces help shape it into a cylindrical form. Once expanded and allowed to cool, it can be spun to produce artificial gravity by centrifugation, and the interior filled with soil, air and water. By creating a slight bulge in the middle of the cylinder, a ring-shaped lake can be made to form. Reflectors would allow sunlight to enter and to be directed where needed. This method would require a significant human and industrial presence in space to be at all feasible. The concept was popularized by science fiction author Larry Niven in his Known Space stories, describing such worlds as the primary habitats of the Belters, a civilization who had colonized the asteroid belt.

Asteroid terrarium: a similar idea to the bubble world, the asteroid terrarium, appears in the novel 2312, authored by hard science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson.

Bishop Ring: The MEGA behemo-gargantuanly massive design using carbon nanotubes, a Bishop Ring is a torus 1000 km in radius, 500 km in width, and with atmosphere retention walls 200 km in height. The habitat would be large enough that it could be "roofless", open to outer space on the inner rim.

McKendree cylinder: another concept that would use carbon nanotubes, a McKendree cylinder is paired cylinders in the same vein as the O'neill Cylinder, but each 460 km in radius and 4600 km long

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Matt Russell
Matt Russell
Aug 22, 2019

Wow ...that is a far out idea. Although i can think of a few cities I'd like to see this happen to. :)


Aug 22, 2019

Hi Jamie & Matt. I've been listening to you guys since IP was in single digits (i.e. < 10).

Re: your most recent (and highly enjoyable) series on space habitats ...

You've mentioned a few authors who have imagined space habitats, but I think you overlooked a very interesting one: James Blish took a different view in his novel Cities in Flight - instead of building large habitats in space, he tunneled under existing earth cities and blasted them off the (depleted) earth, using anti-gravity engines, as self-sustaining, wandering domed habitats. He wrote it in the late 1950's.

Keep up the great podcasts.

K from Canada.

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