The Beamship is an architectural concept that may become the predominate approach to the design of inter-orbital spacecraft, small and large, manned or unmanned, throughout the Asgard phase of space development. As we will discuss in other articles on their individual design, the concept may see use in countless variations for an endless variety of vehicles and functions.
Not to be confused with the ‘beamships’ of UFO mythology, the concept is intended to address a very simple but crucial question; how to effectively build a spacecraft from scratch on-orbit. This is a question little considered by space agencies in the past due to the presumption that the Earth would serve as primary supplier of all technology and hardware to any communities in space. But on reflection such a notion is obviously impractical. For a space-based branch of civilization to be sustainable it must be capable of independent production of everything it needs –including its means of transportation. And many necessary spacecraft may be so large in scale that they preclude any notion of launching them wholly fabricated from the Earth. This, however, presents one with the same essential logistical condition affecting the design of the space settlement; you cannot fabricate inside a space habitat anything bigger than can be put through a pressure hatch. How then does one deal with the construction of large complex spacecraft? The answer proposed here is largely similar to that proposed by the EvoHab concept and employs much of the very same technology.
The term ‘beamship’ derives from the simple notion of a space frame truss beam made of modular parts serving as the primary rigid structural element of a spacecraft to which all other systems and components are retrofit, some on the outside area of the truss, some inside it, and some in-line with it. With this strategy the spacecraft can be reduced to a kit of modular parts which, individually, can be fabricated within an enclosed environment and then assembled externally, usually via simple telerobotics. The basic conceptual form of the beamship is demonstrated by the early MUOL and MUOF structures where a space frame structure, starting with a single simple truss beam, hosts a series of retrofit modules with service systems concentrated at the ends and ‘client modules’ along its length. The key difference for the beamship is that one end concentrates propulsion systems while the other end payload. This parallels the basic designs likely to be employed by dirigible-assisted rocket launch systems such as the SkyScraper which exploit stratospheric launch points to allow for the use of lighter and simpler structures based on space frames and modular parts.
Let’s consider the example of a small inter-orbital shuttle used for ferrying people and a modest amount of goods between LEO and GEO locations –an early system as might be employed in delivering crew to a GEO based MOF facility and extending the capabilities of relatively modest LEO launch capability. A single truss beam with a square or octagonal prism geometry is assembled on-orbit as the basic structure of the vessel. At one end a single primary rocket engine module is mounted within the hollow space of the truss, attaching to interior space frame node points. Fuel tanking, designed for quick-release to allow refueling by whole module swap-out, is mounted on the outside of the truss, linking through the gaps in the truss to the engine held within it. Next along the length of the truss is mounted power and thermal management systems in the form of radiating solar and radiator panels along with communications systems, all much like those used on the MUOL. Supercapacitors may mount alternately with the panels around the outside of the truss while other smaller components would be internally mounted along a systems bus linking to the primary engines, again much like the bus used for the MUOL. A crew compartment would dominate the opposite end of the truss in the form of either a TransHab style module mounted in-line (with its own internal truss integrated through bulkheads to the external truss) or a smaller internal pneumatic hull mounted, similar to that used by the MOF facilities, inside the hollow space of the truss and surrounded by shield panels mounted on the outside. The choice of pressure hull style would depend on the necessary sectional area of the truss. A rigid docking module, in the form of a small sphere or cylinder, would be added to the open end of the truss and crew compartment. The interior of the crew compartment would be outfit, again, by components attaching to the truss structure or pass-through nodes and the system bus running along exterior portions of the structure would pass through to the interior for life support and control systems interfacing. To complete the system package attitude thrusters and video cameras would be added to the truss exterior at logical positions and remaining exposed portions of truss may be covered in retrofit shield panels as necessary. Thus one realizes a complete spacecraft from a collection of rather small modular components.
This simple design concept is infinitely flexible and scalable. One can support larger vessels first by lengthening the truss, then by widening is sectional area with a higher polygon geometry, then by clustering the truss beams as a corrugated panel or prism, and finally by employing larger scale truss components. The truss can branch, allowing for a radiating array of crew compartments or very large solar arrays to power plasma thruster propulsion. Simple pneumatic hull units can be replaced with built-up EvoHab hulls of any size, the interior outfit with a variation of the same kind of urban tree habitat used on full-size Asgard settlements. And, of course, the spacecraft can freely evolve from vehicle into station or settlement since it’s employing much the same components as Valhalla and EvoHab settlements, perhaps cannibalizing parts from successive mission vehicles.
It’s easy to imagine how this design concept would become ubiquitous among Asgard spacecraft. Virtually any purpose one can imagine for a spacecraft could be realized with this structural approach. Satellites, deep space probes and surveyors, space telescopes, asteroid mining systems, transports manned and unmanned and in all sizes, transportable orbital stations to compliment lunar and planetary settlement programs, all these can be easily realized with such structures and perpetually repaired and upgraded. The only applications that would be a challenge are atmospheric re-entry and lunar/planetary launch vehicles, but here too a slight variation on this scheme using welded space frames of smaller dimensions may suffice where higher g, sheering forces, and vibration must be dealt with. The Bifrost UltraLight project would be based on this as would the design of cheap mass-produced disposable ballistic re-entry units for MUOF and MOF support, ‘rough lander’ systems, and various forms of powered lander systems.
Only the advent of robust nanotechnology –NanoFoam in particular– may ultimately supplant this architecture through the use of self-fabricated monolithic structures. But even with these a generally tubular structural scheme using systems organization very similar to the beamship is likely, since this represents a very fundamental strategy for organizing structure in microgravity. As we will discuss later in the Solaria section, many spacecraft of the Diamond Age may bear curious resemblance to the fanciful depictions of spacecraft in the early 20th century, sans the less functional details and with more organismic characteristics deriving from biomimicked microstructural schemes for ‘growing’ large area features from the bottom-up, as it were.
- Life In Asgard
- Modular Unmanned Orbital Laboratory - MUOL
- Modular Unmanned Orbital Factory - MUOF
- Manned Orbital Factory - MOF
- Asgard SE Upstation
- Asteroid Settlements
- Inter-Orbital Way-Station
- Solar Power Satellite - SPS
- Inter-Orbital Transport
- Cyclic Transport
- Special Mission Vessels
- Orbital Mining Systems
- The Ballistic Railway Network
- Deep Space Telemetry and Telecom Network - DST&TN
- Asgard Supporting Technologies