Orbital ship yard


Is there anyone that has a plan for a dedicated orbital shipyard? Bigelow, and Orbital assembly have plans for a station but they’re all for people not a dedicated shipyard to my knowlage.


The short answer is no. There are no state or private company which focus only on orbital shipyard. It’s not viable at this moment because of our infrastructure and technology. We build all things on ground launch them and assemble them in space if needed. But in “near” future lets say in a few decades it may be a business case. Especially after company which focus on space resources such as asteroids mining will start to operate.


But anyway Your thoughts bout having orbital shipyard is very interesting concept. At first it appeared simple enough and a little Sci-Fi right now. But if You focus a little bit on this idea You will get at least few questions…So lets presume we have an asteroids and other outer space resources gathering/mining/refining tech in operation.
What do we have to create to build such a shipyard or perhaps an entire factory? Where it should be placed? (orbital(LEO/GEO…, L points or other places…). How to operate and maintain it? Robots only…? Robots+Humans? Is it just dedicated shipyard, dedicated fuel facility, etc or an entire factory (from resources refining to the final products)? And finally but not the last ones is legal issues and economic aspects. All these aspects are tightly related.

p.s. IMHO, such a “space factories” will be inevitable step to have interplanetary civilization’s infrastructure.


Indeed. In fact when you really think about building ships outsie of an atmoshepre and maybe even in a small or null gravity well would have advangtages i.e. ship size as you would then not be looking to launch it through said atmoshepere and gravity well. But also draws backs at least to start with i doubt if all the required minerals etc would be plentiful …

the two would kinda fuel each other. higher demand for meatirals in orbit would make getting those materials away from earth more profitable.

as for robot/human i would think as much robtics as possble with humans to maintain them. placeing large amounts of humans in orbit to work as factory workers would push the costs back up as they would need feeding/watering and habitation etc.

It seems to me to be an inevitbale result of moving industry from the ground to space that many platforms would be required to support that industry. The big question is not will it happen but when. Until the ride price to get up there drops considerbly and the loads with can lift per launch rise i fear we will be earth bound. To that we seem to be looking to Blue Origin and SpaceX maybe SLS are there any large lifters i’m missing?

I am with Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos with this. it needs to happen and the only way it will get cheaper is through compitition. What bussiness man with any sense is going to undercut himself after all they are in bussiness to make money. We are already seeing the rising demand for small sats (already brought about by falling costs) push that market overdrive with starups all the time and costs falling. Now we need the same for heavy lift. It’s kinda chicken and the egg with the demand comes the need but no one is going to build massive structures with nothing to launch them. Spacex and Blue Origin are taking the dive and investing the money to build the next generation of heavy lifters … lets hope they both suceed and that many others follow as once the capacity is there i am sure the need will grow.


SLS wont be good for reducing launch costs. It’s well on track for $20 billion+ a launch (assuming they get 1 launch). Since the other 3 slated launches all also involve more research and extensive modifications, that number might actually go up as they launch more. The thing SLS has been good at is spreading money around.

As I recall Virgin Orbital, ULA’s Vulcan, and Stratolaunch will also be doing some kind of reuse that could reduce costs. China and India too, though I don’t know how efficient they’ll be since, as government projects, they don’t need to worry too much about their bottom lines.


True SLS is unlikely to reduce the cost but it is at least heavy lift … nothing the size of these projects has been availble since Saturn5 which was when we were last looking to be going beyond LEO. It would be a shame for SLS not to fly or make it’s next versions. That said it seems reuseabilty is going to gradually become the norm in order to keep vechiles competative. So the potentital demise of SLS is one could say market forces at work.


Heavy Lift that only governments can afford is basically no heavy lift at all.


Maybe but hopefully the technology and leasons learnt filter from the government an into the private sector. After all lots of leasons on reusabilty came from the Shuttle program. Some may say we learnt how not to do it from that i woul say we learnt that radpid reusabilty is important and that minimal re-conditioning between flights is also important. The shuttle program would have been much cheaper had turn arounds been easier and less involved. All those indivual tiles no single one the same was a big draw back … Leason learned … I am sure there are leasons that will come from SLS … weather they are worth the 20+ billion is another matter. On the subject of this thread i can’t see any experimental platform/station for industry being launched without at least some government involvement; And there may will be missions that suit SLS over other launch systems. I do agree though it is more likely large launches will be SpacX for Blue Origin just because of cost … lets face it public or private it’s always going to boil down to the cash.


Yeah, I’m probably being a bit too harsh SLS. Fifty years of completely unfocused development is just weighing heavy on me. Falcon 9’s lithium/magnesium/aluminium alloy, for example, is related to developments from Constellation. Bigelow’s inflatable habitat skin is from NASA heritage technology. There truly is useful tech coming from these programs which have fallen behind or fallen by the wayside.

Still, it would be nice if the US government actually did something in human spaceflight that had an actual objective for a change. It feels like they’re mostly spinning their wheels, doing donuts in the parking lot, when they should be out on the open highway.


I think SLS is a dead letter because one of the components of NASA is that they have to spend money around the country weather administrations come and go that is one of the underlined components when it was established. SLS will bring a lot of new technologies that coming from NASA will not be patented and will be available to those commercial companies. The reason I was asking if anyone had plans for an orbital Shipyard as if we don’t have anybody thinking that far ahead now when we do have the lift capability and we do have the demand then we’re going to be mad dash to figure it out oral come haphazardly with bits and pieces here and there. It is a chicken and egg because in order to get something like that designed and constructed be it in low earth orbit or geostationary it will need massive funding that pretty much will only come from the government. But once a structure is up there then the opportunities such as asteroid Mining and Other Things become a lot more practical for non-governmental organizations because they can order up and not have to worry about launch costs directly. Launch costs aren’t the only consideration when trying to get things into orbit availability is also going to become an issue Florida’s not the greatest place to launch from when you have to delay 500 flights for Falcon heavy Maiden launch. I don’t remember the exact number but it was something like two out of 10 satellites in Earth orbit are actually functioning and the rest are dead. Assuming government satellites for other countries are off-limits by default commercial satellites could be refurbished if we had a facility to do that in even if it was just the starting platform. I saw the Gateway foundations presentation and I thought it was a great idea but that it was a dead idea until it had a better business. Because right now they would be a space station to nowhere we don’t have anything or any plans that would have a launch Cadence great enough to provide them enough people passing through to be fiscally worth it. But that’s why I wonder what would an actual non sci-fi orbital Shipyard look like. How would we process Metals would some be better to process in zero-g or what others be better to process under partial full grade or amount of gravity. I look at getting that gravity through spin gravity. Electronic components we already have universities and companies researching 3D printing circuit boards currently it’s a horrible idea because of how cheap it is for printed circuit boards but it might be a good idea if you had a small platform up in orbit and you could print low volume variable design circuit boards on the Fly. Everyone talks about getting people to live in orbit but they need to have jobs and we can’t just have purely science because no one wants to fund purely science on the level needed to put large groups of people in orbit. But I do think the first real orbital industry will be satellite refurbishment because for companies it’s cheaper to launch parts then it is to design-build then launched a complete satellite when you already have a piece of Hardware in orbit that has solar panels thrusters computers it may only need five or six pieces replaced a few upgrades and you have effectively a brand new satellite.


Good point. I wonder what effect smelting in low/0G would have on the metal … same for casting/rolling gravity must have some effect in the postioning of the molecules and therefore the properties of the final product.

totally agree


While this story is not specifically about Orbital shipyards it does discuss future business opportunities in regards to “space stations”. Its from the NYTimes so I would assume most if not all of us here have read it, but just in case it escaped someones attention I’ll post it on this thread.


Sci fi dreams


That is a great article I had not seen that yet thanks for posting it. I like the idea of the Bigelow inflatable modules but I wonder how much radiation shielding do they actually provide. I’m assuming that they are either rated for or will be rated for acceptable levels what do we consider to be acceptable levels can they be reduced to increase long-term habitability in space. Could they deploy modules that are meant for manufacturing. Right now the International Space Station is shielded by the Earth’s magnetic field from the truly hard radiation I wonder if there are plans for a structure say out at one of La Grange points. Could one of the US states like Texas California New York State take up a mantle to put some more infrastructure in orbit with the dramatic decreasing of launch costs. Those three states individually have GDP is higher than the country of Canada and Canada sent an arm. We might not have to jump straight to Manufacturing, I remember NASA doing a documentary on orbital power that they had come up with 2 ways and then there was an independent idea from a scientist back in the 80s. I wonder if something like that could get the commercial aspect more devoted into space infrastructure.


The medical community is still arguing about “safe” levels of radiation. One side is saying that we should treat no levels as safe, and the other points out that if you spread out a dose of radiation over a longer period the symptoms reduce or disappear. So there’s some evidence that there may be a safe “threshold” where radiation damage is repaired before it can be harmful (the study of genetics suggests this as well), but no one can demonstrate where that threshold might be.

Long-term research on this has been equivocal, with some studies suggesting very low doses can actually be helpful (slight damage encourages lasting repair processes). Others don’t even acknowledge that though. The problem comes down to numbers: the “danger” we’re seeing from low doses (extrapolated from data from much higher dose rates) suggests that from a year in LEO people would likely get around a 100 extra cancers in a population of 10,000. The natural death rate from cancer is around 30%, so we’d expect about 3,000 in that population to get cancer regardless. These “extra” cancers don’t even tend to show up till 20+ years down the line. Trying to spot which 100 died of “radiation induced cancer” among the other 3,000 that would died of a “naturally occurring” cancer is literally impossible. Trying to organize a 20-40 year long study of several hundred thousand exposed people and the similarly sized control group needed to demonstrate with any degree of significance an increased rate of cancer is a pretty tall order. Thus, all the radiation commissions say that it would be “prudent” to just assume all radiation is harmful, regardless of whether its true or not.

As for Bigelow modules, they offer very little shielding from Galactic Cosmic Radiation (GCR). The only way to stop GCR is mass and lots of it (you’d need ~2 meters of dirt to drop the yearly dose below OSHA “radiation worker” standards). The Bigelow skin does have some resistance to solar energetic particle (SEP) events, which have a lot lower energies than GCR.

To my knowledge Bigelow is only working on habitable modules. So they have very little if anything in the way of “industrial” or “manufacturing” versions. Right now their focus is on “space hotels”, but once they have employees in space, I’m sure they’ll start thinking of other things they could build.


Interesting on the radiation thank you. So in the classic O’Neill cylinder you would get that soil to block radiation at least Indy cylinder part and all you have to do is come up with something for the ends? So for radiation blocking a classic O’Neill cylinder could possibly be a practical design for something out in a LaGrange point or lunar orbit Mars orbit. I am of course assuming that any dirt slash dirt like substitute with come from something outside of the earth just because of Mass to orbit costs. Could lunar regolith be used inside an O’Neill cylinder as the dirt I know regolith is superfine but could it be filtered and wanting the larger particles or would a 1G or near 1G gravity effect that very fine lunar regolith to make it actually usable and not instant lung damage?


Lunar regolith is sharp because flowing water has not rounded it down. If you wanted to make it “safe” you could use a weathering process to do so (like tumbling rocks to make them smooth). The real problem in sourcing your regolith is making sure that it has the right mix of minerals and nutrients, so that bacteria can process it into soil. It would probably be easiest just to find some asteroids with the right composition and use them for material. Because they aren’t at the bottom of the moon’s gravity well, it would take a lot less fuel to ship them to a Lagrange point.

It would even be possible that in a very large O’neal cylinder that as long as there was enough structural material, you wouldn’t even really need soil. You could just grow things using hydroponics.

As for the ends of the cylinder, they would need to be made out of something strong enough to hold in the pressure, so you’ll likely have plenty of material there. From an engineering stand point the ends are the best places to have docking points, so you’ll probably have enormously more material (docking ports, warehouses, loading equipment) at the ends.


That is a good point I thought about the asteroids but what is the fuel cost to get an asteroid versus the fuel cost to get off the moon obviously both are cheaper than you get off the Earth. With ion drives it might actually make it more cost effective to go and get an asteroid even though it would take longer. Given the radiation size if you had an O’Neill cylinder you would get your sample size because if you could Shield the inside to OSHA standards any workers you had that had to work in the lower G areas for arriving Personnel departing Personnel cargo etcetera will get exposed to lower doses of radiation and then any Personnel that were outside for construction work etc would get a slightly higher level and you could get a sample study 0 slight hire all at one location. How would you construct an O’Neill cylinder if you were trying to do it like on a minimalist budget using just asteroids getting them I don’t think would be very hard people already have plenty of ideas for grabbing them. How would you separate the metals assuming you scouted them to get a good mix of metal asteroids with the levels of each kind that you want cuz I know they very and they have different types? Could you use mirrors in the sun to heat up an asteroid slightly spin it and get the density of different metals to move out and move in for lighter ones and then you would just be able to peel them off if they were cooler.


It’s about 13000 m/s deltaV to leave Earth’s surface and go to interplanetary oribt. It’s about 3000 m/s deltaV to go from the surface of the moon to interplanetary space (plus however much you used to get to the moon’s surface ~14000 m/s, which would only apply to things you didn’t build on the moon). Nudging an asteroid could take very little deltaV indeed (hundreds) if you were willing to wait decades for gravity assists to play out.

Ion drives cannot be used to get from earth surface or moon surface into orbit. They do not provide enough thrust. They are good only for leaving orbit and interplanetary maneuvers, where they are very efficient but take a long time to finish a maneuver. They could be used to tractor an asteroid.

From what little I know of metallurgy, you either need to use acid to extract metal from ore, or you need to use heat to drive off impurities. The first method would be mostly for rare metals like gold and what not. The second method would work for things like iron. I’m not sure about aluminum, it’s a bit trickier to refine (requires electrolysis).

In space, heat does not easily dissipate and you don’t have to worry about oxidation, so it would probably be a lot easier to refine iron and make steel and glass, since your furnace could be powered directly by focusing sunlight and would not have to worry about cooling off.

I would think you would want to contain your material as much as possible. Spinning things off sounds like a recipe for navigation hazards. The strategies I have heard proposed involve using high powered light to spaul material off (while containing the dust and gas products inside a bag).

If we think of collecting volatile gas and ice as a “first stage”, then we can expect input material to a metal refining process to be mostly dust. You might be able to “spin” that for density separation as long as it was well contained. Then you could solar forge the result to improve purity.

Sercel, J.C. Stepping Stones: Economic Analysis of Space Transportation Supplied from NEO Resources. NIAC Phase I Final Report. TransAstra Corporation. 15 October 2017.


Yeah I know we can’t use ion drives to get off the earth I was thinking once you’re at that decision point of do I go to the moon or do I go off to asteroids that’s when you’re like ion drive or not.

I hadn’t thought of spinning asteroids not inside of a container but you’re right that would be if not a navigation Hazard personnel and Equipment hazard. But how do materials of different densities work in low G. Even if we don’t know a lot about molten metal are there other experiments that have been done using multi density liquids. Like that one we used to do in high school where we would pour in all the different things in Mercury would be at the bottom you drop stuff and watch it passed through some mediums and not pass through others because it was intense enough. Since we couldn’t really use a cylinder or maybe we could use a cylinder on Logie environments you just have to cap a both ends of it inject all of your different test liquids and see if they will separate themselves through spinning it end-over-end. Would you end up with your denser liquids on each end or denser liquids to the center. I would guess the denser ones would move out easier. Not sure if the same idea what apply to metal but still would be interesting.