Author Topic: Starship as an Inflatable Colony  (Read 1452 times)

Online redliox

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Starship as an Inflatable Colony
« on: 03/17/2022 01:36 pm »
I was uncertain which section would be the best to put this thread, but a SpaceX-themed-topic among SpaceX stuff seemed best...as it can be distracting in other areas.  Moderators, feel free to move as necessary.  Anyway....

While pondering how starships could seed outposts and colonies on either the Moon or Mars (adding further uncertainty where to put this topic), a thought struck me: could a variation of starship essential be a balloon-in-a-can? Aka a Bigelow module with legs.

Balloons are fairly simple and unexpectedly durable devices: just fill with gas and the gas deploys your structure for you (engineering of course allowing).  While the starship is a skyscraper, especially by spacecraft standards, weather balloons can be as huge as the statue of liberty (fittingly close to the size of our aforementioned starship), and can have some shape given to them (pressure preferring round naturally).

Picture a landed starship with an inflatable ring basically encompassing it, same height and touching ground; the starship literally its core with the inflatable either as a single solid ring or multiple lobes.  Fuel tanks might be retrofitted for further cabin space but they could be storage for oxygen.

Prior to fabricating stuff from Lunar/Martian regolith, could this be feasible?
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Offline dglow

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Re: Starship as an Inflatable Colony
« Reply #1 on: 03/17/2022 01:55 pm »
That’s a fun idea. NASA and Bigelow’s inflatable designs have all targeted micro-gravity environments, which the Moon and Mars are not of course. So any ring(s) expanding beyond the Starship would need to provide floors, and ISTM that works against the ‘open volume’ we’ve seen in other inflatable designs.

But the bigger challenge IMO is that Starship would need to serve as the core of said inflatable. Bigelow’s designs featured a core which comprised the machinery, work surfaces, and other “hard goods” of the module, with the inflatable surface surrounding it. That is, the core was always contained inside the inflatable skin itself. How would the same be made to work with Starship? The inhabitable ring proposed would need be completely separate from the outer surface of the Starship, at which point you have probably tripled the amount of skin surface required.

But that’s just one reader’s hot take. Again: fun idea.


Online redliox

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Re: Starship as an Inflatable Colony
« Reply #2 on: 03/17/2022 02:40 pm »
But the bigger challenge IMO is that Starship would need to serve as the core of said inflatable. Bigelow’s designs featured a core which comprised the machinery, work surfaces, and other “hard goods” of the module, with the inflatable surface surrounding it. That is, the core was always contained inside the inflatable skin itself. How would the same be made to work with Starship? The inhabitable ring proposed would need be completely separate from the outer surface of the Starship, at which point you have probably tripled the amount of skin surface required.

Oh exactly!  The structures would be built from the inside out.  A huge problem with many habitat ideas would be building something in the space environment, either with robots or astronauts in bulky suits; easier to build when you have at least an atmosphere and no dust.  Especially early on, why build out in the hostile open when you could build somewhere breathable.  On a related note, part of this idea came from the thought of a starship landing inside a lava tube skylight and deploying one of the really large balloons to fill the would-be-inhabited cave from the inside-out - surveying for pokey stalactites advised beforehand.
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Online DanClemmensen

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Re: Starship as an Inflatable Colony
« Reply #3 on: 03/17/2022 03:52 pm »
That’s a fun idea. NASA and Bigelow’s inflatable designs have all targeted micro-gravity environments, which the Moon and Mars are not of course. So any ring(s) expanding beyond the Starship would need to provide floors, and ISTM that works against the ‘open volume’ we’ve seen in other inflatable designs.

Microgravity simplifies an inflatable structure but is not mandatory. When I was a kid (1950's) the USAF had some very large inflatable hemispherical domes intended for rapidly-deployed command centers after a nuclear war. I think they were at least 150 feet in diameter. They brought them out and inflated them for visitors' day at Andrews AFB and set up displays and exhibits inside.

You would not need to use Starship as the central core. Such a structure on the Moon would have a higher differential pressure and less downward force due to gravity, so keeping the bottom flat is a larger problem, but not insurmountable.

Offline dglow

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Re: Starship as an Inflatable Colony
« Reply #4 on: 03/17/2022 04:12 pm »
Microgravity simplifies an inflatable structure but is not mandatory. When I was a kid (1950's) the USAF had some very large inflatable hemispherical domes intended for rapidly-deployed command centers after a nuclear war. I think they were at least 150 feet in diameter. They brought them out and inflated them for visitors' day at Andrews AFB and set up displays and exhibits inside.

Oh yes.. where I grew up someone had acquired a few of these and used them to house year-round tennis courts. I was very little and they felt like magic.

Oh exactly!  The structures would be built from the inside out.  A huge problem with many habitat ideas would be building something in the space environment, either with robots or astronauts in bulky suits; easier to build when you have at least an atmosphere and no dust.
You would not need to use Starship as the central core. Such a structure on the Moon would have a higher differential pressure and less downward force due to gravity, so keeping the bottom flat is a larger problem, but not insurmountable.

Agreed. At this point I think we’re past your opening concept, @redliox, and are just talking about pressurized domes in general.

But Starship could be a great delivery vehicle for said domes, and might play a key role in powering/pressurizing one. I could imagine a dome habitat raised next to a landed Starship that didn’t plan on a return trip: dome + skyscraper.

Online redliox

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Re: Starship as an Inflatable Colony
« Reply #5 on: 03/17/2022 09:56 pm »
Agreed. At this point I think we’re past your opening concept, @redliox, and are just talking about pressurized domes in general.

But Starship could be a great delivery vehicle for said domes, and might play a key role in powering/pressurizing one. I could imagine a dome habitat raised next to a landed Starship that didn’t plan on a return trip: dome + skyscraper.

It's a decent possibility.  You could say it depends on how rapid you want the colony to build up.  A starship will offer the advantage of the life-support (most obviously the atmospheric systems) and some structure being built in; further example being a decent chunk of the intended balloon-internal-support/colony scaffolding could be cargo inside the same starship, just assembly required.

A Lunar/Martian settlement will probably involve both an outpost and then a colony phase, with the population difference being factor of a thousand or better (such as 200 for a large science base versus 200,000++ for something resembling a city).  The colony phase will want domes and inflatables much larger than starship but, again, I figure a simple, easy-to-setup configuration ala an inflatable starship would help the former.
"Let the trails lead where they may, I will follow."
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