Saturday, April 21, 2012

S is for Space Hotels a guest post by Marilyn Peake


Space hotels figure prominently in my science fiction novel, GODS IN THE MACHINE. I did quite a bit of research on this topic in writing the novel, and am delighted to have the opportunity to share some of it here on Scott’s blog.

In GODS IN THE MACHINE, the U.S. military houses black ops headquarters far above Earth in space hotels on top of space elevators.

In the real world, people are actually working to create space hotels, and the first one is planned for launch this year. There are two main types of space hotel designs: those that travel through space like rocket ships and a stationary type that can be reached via space elevator. Because the physics of space elevators are so complicated, it looks like the rocket-ship type will be built first. “Galactic
Suite” is the name of the hotel planned for launch this year. It cost $3 billion to build, and the cost to vacation in it will be around $4 million for a three-day stay. It will consist of three boutique-style bedrooms in a joined-up pod style resembling the model of a molecule, with each pod fitted inside a rocket that will take the structure into space. The hotel will travel around the world every 80 minutes, and guests will be able to see the sun rise 15 times a day. Here’s more information about “Galactic Suite”: http://www.cnn.com/2007/TECH/08/14/space.hotel.reut/index.html

The type of space hotels in GODS IN THE MACHINE are stationary hotels on top of “beanstalk” space elevators. The physics for building them is complicated, but the advantage of building these types of elevators is that they would pay for themselves if utilized to deliver materials up into space. In 2004, Glen Hiemstra wrote for Futurist.com:

“When the elevator is complete, climber vehicles can carry payloads of up to 13 tons at a speed of 125 miles an hour, at a cost of $100 a pound, or less, compared to $10,000 a pound when launching material into space via the shuttle. A trip to geosynchronous orbit at 22,000 miles, would take seven days. Along the elevator route, way stations drop payloads into low earth orbit, or higher orbits.  And, using the centrifugal force which exists at the end of the tether, payloads can be launched to the planets and beyond relatively inexpensively.

“What is more, once the first elevator is in place, it becomes vastly cheaper and easier to build the second, the third, and so on, until access to space becomes nearly routine, with costs as little as $10 a pound. Space hotels, commercial ventures, and the like spring up, and we become a space faring people.”  The physics of building space elevators and space hotels is fascinating. The space elevators need to be built on or within 20 degrees of the Earth’s equator.

The primary reason for this is that the centripetal force of the Earth’s rotation along the equator will keep the cables taut enough for the counterweight object at the other end (e.g. a space hotel) to keep swinging around the Earth. You can picture this like the string of a yo-yo being kept taut by swinging the yo-yo around in a circle. Another reason for building space elevators on or near the equator is
the lack of wind or lightning storms there which could disrupt the stability of the elevators.

The necessary height of space elevators is also fascinating. These structures would be huge. They’ve recently become more of a possibility due to the invention of carbon nanotubes, which are both extremely strong and extremely thin and could be used to create the long space elevator cables. In order to avoid being pulled back down to Earth, space elevators must extend beyond the point
of geostationary orbit (GSO) which occurs at 35,786 km or 22,236 miles above Earth’s equator. The center of mass would occur at GSO, so the counterweight (e.g. the space hotel) would need to be positioned far above that. It has been estimated that space elevators constructed with carbon nanotubes could rise as high as 100,000 km or 62,000 miles into space. These would be impressive
structures.

It has been said that any country that builds the first space elevator will control space exploration. In GODS IN THE MACHINE, a U.S.-based company, Space Construction Inc., receives permission from both the United States government and the United Nations to build a series of space hotels connected to beanstalk elevators around the world. In exchange, Space Construction Inc. agrees to
construct black ops headquarters inside every hotel. From there, the U.S. government believes that it can keep a watchful eye on green-skinned alien creatures discovered on Earth while controlling its own citizens through the use of realistic holograms that appear as religious visions.

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