Why This Space Expert Thinks “Hundreds of Thousands of Humans” Could Live in Space By 2050

22nd July, 2021.      //   Space Travel  // 

What it will take:
space travel
Princeton professor and space activist Dr. Gerard K. O’Neill laid out the roadmap for making this happen in his seminal work The High Frontier, explains Jacobson, describing how a series of large space stations equipped with machinery to create artificial gravity could be placed at “Lagrange points” between Earth and the moon. Because humans evolved to live in gravity, and because astronauts’ physical deterioration living aboard the International Space Station is well documented, it’s believed that large space stations providing artificial gravity would be superior to moon colonies for supporting large populations in space.

Cost and capacity (i.e., payload) have historically been the big obstacles to building such stations, of course. But Jacobson believes that the latest generation of heavy lift rockets, and SpaceX’s Starship in particular, could be the key to solving both these problems.

Elon Musk has estimated the rocket’s operating cost at just $2 million per flight, and “Starship is being designed to carry 100-150 metric tons,” notes Jacobson, “and could fly multiple flights per day. If and when Starship becomes operational, scaling space activities becomes more likely to happen.”

Consider that the current International Space Station masses just over 400 metric tons and required about 40 rocket launches in total to assemble — mostly space shuttle launches costing $1 billion and up. So ton for ton, Starship holds the potential to cut the number of flights needed by 90% — and to enable the construction of even larger space stations, at greatly reduced cost.

As for populating these stations with people, “hundreds of thousands” of inhabitants may sound like a stretch today, when every eye turns to NASA for its once-or-twice-a-year launches of three or four astronauts at a time. But consider that Starship is being designed to carry as many as 100 passengers at a time and to launch multiple times per day. One hundred passengers times three launches per day times 365 days in a year means that — in theory at least — “a single Starship dedicated to orbital operations could put more than 100,000 people into space in any given year.”

And SpaceX’s Musk expects Starship to be ready for human spaceflight as early as 2023.