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Floating asteroid belt colony in the next 15 years

Should we build a 'megasatellite' of human habitats around the dwarf planet Ceres? It's more plausible than it sounds.

In this article, a NASA illustration depicts an O'Neill Cylinder, a floating human habitat orbiting an alien planet. A new paper proposes building a mega-colony of them around the dwarf planet, Ceres.

Now more than ever, space agencies and starry-eyed billionaires have their minds fixed on finding a new home for humanity beyond Earth's orbit. Mars is an obvious candidate, given its relatively close proximity, 24-hour day/night cycle and CO2-rich atmosphere. However, there's a school of spacefaring thought that suggests colonizing the surface of another planet — any planet — is more trouble than it's worth.

Now, a new paper published Jan. 6 date to the preprint database arXiv offers a creative counter-proposal: Ditch the Red Planet, and build a gargantuan floating habitat around the dwarf planet Ceres, instead.

In the paper, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, astrophysicist Pekka Janhunen of the Finnish Meteorological Institute in Helsinki describes his vision of a "megasatellite" of thousands of cylindrical spacecrafts, all linked together inside a disk-shaped frame that permanently orbits Ceres — the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Each of these cylindrical habitats could accommodate upwards of 50,000 people, support an artificial atmosphere and generate an Earth-like gravity through the centrifugal force of its own rotation, Janhunen wrote. (This general idea, first proposed in the 1970s, is known as an O'Neill cylinder).

A single cylinder could comfortably hold about 57,000 people, Janhunen said, and would be held in place next to its neighboring cylinders through powerful magnets, like those used in magnetic levitation.

Janhunen's mega-satellite would include a disk of interconnected habitat cylinders, flanked on both sides by massive mirrors to angle sunlight into the colony.

Janhunen's mega-satellite would include a disk of interconnected habitat cylinders (center), flanked on both sides by massive mirrors to angle sunlight into the colony.  That interconnectedness points to the other big advantage of mega-satellite living, Janhunen said: New habitat cylinders could be added onto the edges of the colony indefinitely, allowing for near unlimited expansion.

"Mars' surface area is smaller than Earth's, and consequently it cannot provide room for significant population and economic expansion," Janhunen told Live Science. A Ceres colony, on the other hand, "is growable from one to millions of habitats."

But why Ceres?  The answer is an interesting one, this article goes into the proposal far deeper than the space of this text box... and I expect we will be exactly there in our future.  As I read it, thoughts of the movie about the "space station of five thousand planets" came to mind... as well as the movie, "Outland".  I expect, both of those expansion strategies, and this one as well, are in our future... provided our non-terrestrial gate keepers allow it.

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