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Space Mining Settlement


Space Mining Settlement

      As population and economy continue to drive the frontier of human exploration into deeper regions of space, the concept of a new permanent space settlement located in the Asteroid Belt, Astoria, has arisen to fulfill the supply and processing needs of increasing Belter operations. 

    Astoria will be the collection of one primary settlement and four secondary settlements distributed along the Kirkwood Gaps of the Asteroid Belt, accommodating a total of 16,000 long-term residents, processing Aluminum, Iron, Silicon, and other ores from Asteroids. Each settlement has its distinct industrial and residential area, features a complete set of industrial facilities, residential infrastructures, transportation system, communication system, and protective installations. The residential complex also provides 0.77 artificial gravity by rotation, accommodating permanent settlers. 

    The design concept is the result of 2016 International Space Settlement Design Competition. 12 members of the team AeroUnicorn completed three books of the design proposal, describing detailed designs from settlement structural design to business development. The Astoria concept made to the Global Final Qualification Round from the Chinese Regional Qualification Round. 

Project Type/
Engineering Concept Design
Team Leader
Company President
Linyi Hou
Daoyuan Wang
Zixuan Chen
Yushang Zhou
Yujian Cong
Kaile Ding
Kaixuan Ding
Tianyi Cao
Jingya Sun
Yijia Zhang
Xiyu Xu
2015 - 2016
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Structural Design
Residential Complex
Children's Zone
Agricultural & Industrial Complex
Storage Area
Space Port
Refinery Complex
Refinery Complex
Ship Parking

Astoria Structural Design

     The structural design for Astoria incorporates modularization and self-construction methods to reduce expense without losing functionality. It guarantees the safety of its residents, while at the same time allow residents to be able to enjoy their stay just like on Earth. 

       The body of Astoria consists of two ring-shaped complexes and a central core. The larger ring complex is the residential complex, designed to provide a safe and enjoyable environment for its 8,000 settler residents. The smaller ring complex underneath the residential complex is the agricultural and industrial complex, designed to provide operational support and business development. The Central Axis is the core of the entire settlement, connecting the residential complex and agricultural complex. The Central Axis is also the site for refinery complex, cargo storage area, space port, and space ship maintained facilities. 


Astoria Structural Dimension (Unit in meters)

Interior Design

Residential Complex Cross Section with Children Section

     The enclosed and pressurized Residential Complex is separated into six main sections with different functions. In unlikely situations where a particular section suffers any emergencies, sections can be enclosed independently through flexible lock gates. 

        The Residential Complex's main deck provides artificial gravity, the internal decoration and installation simulate the geographical landscape on Earth, with artificial skylights. Below the main deck is the independent space for plumbing systems, power systems, and emergency storage etc. A separate 1g cabin is designed to provide higher gravity for children. 


Internal View in the Residential Complex

       The interior of the Agricultural & Industrial Complex and Central Axis are designed to satisfy the infrastructure and facilities, as well as the convenience for industrial operation. In the Agricultural & Industrial Complex, vegetable and plant farms are built on 3-dimensional levels coupled with the help of aeroponic technologies. The Central Axis also hosts the refinery factory, cargo storage, and the spaceport. 

Left to Right: Refinery Factory, Cargo Storage, Spaceport

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The construction process of the Primary Settlement

Operation & Infrastructures 

Orbit and Positions

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     The Astoria consists of one primary settlement of four secondary settlements for forward operations. 

    The primary settlement located in a Kirkwood Gap at 2.5 AU heliocentric orbit, with an orbital period of 3.95 years. Four secondary settlements will be located in another Kirkwood Gap at a 2.82 heliocentric orbit at 90 degrees intervals, with rotational periods of approximately 4.86 years.

     Kirkwood Gaps are gaps or dips distributed among the main-belt asteroids in the Asteroid belt. Placing settlements in Kirkwood Gaps reduces the frequency of collision with asteroids, therefore reducing maintenance costs and improving safety. Synchronized orbits of secondary settlements will increase opportunities for belter operations to receive services. 

Material Consumption 

       Following materials are required for the construction and maintenance of Astoria settlements. The first batch of materials for initial construction is launched from Earth or other existing settlements. Once the settlement forms the preliminary operation capability, most of the materials will be directly extracted from asteroids. 

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Atmosphere Management

     The atmospheric pressure within the Astoria is set to be 0.88 atm, with constituents listed in the table on the right. The temperature inside the Residential Complex is controlled between 17 degrees Celsius and 25 degrees Celsius. The humidity will be controlled between 40% to 60%. 

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Food Mangement

     Automated systems will be controlling the whole procedure of food production. Plant-based foods are grown in the vertical farms located in the Agricultural and Industrial Complex with the help of aeroponic technology. Protein-based foods are produced with bioprinters using stem cells, thus ensures the number of synthetic protein products produced is sufficient for the population. Any excessive food material will be packed up and sent to the storage department as reserve emergency supplies. 

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Electricity Management

     Nuclear fission is used to power the Astoria settlement. U-235 can generate 11,218 kWh energy per gram, 137.8 kg of U-235 would be sufficient to power an entire settlement for one year. The nuclear power plant is installed in the Central Axis, away from the Residential Complex for safety. 

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Water Management

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     The Astoria settlements reuse as much water as possible to reduce operating costs and achieve self-sustainability. Purified water is stored in the tanks in the storage Complex. The circulation process of water is shown on the left, consists of three shifts of purification in one cycle. 

Waste Management

       Most solid wastes produced on the settlement could be recycled. Organic wastes would be used to generate biogas to produce energy, inorganic wastes will go through extensive harmless treatments. Non-recyclable wastes are processed into low-density materials which will be used as part of the membrane shielding units. 

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Day/Night Cycles


     Astoria utilizes a combination of natural sunlight and artificial illumination to create day/night cycles in the Residential Complex. Electrochromic glass installed on the roof allows adjusted sunlight to pass through. The intelligent day/night cycle control system controls the actuators to enhance the natural sunlight, simulate the sunshine at different times of the day. The light will be adjusted according to the natural daylight cycles on the Earth equator. The period will vary with the seans experienced on Earth accordingly. 

Foam Membrane Shield (FMS)

     Despite being located in the Kirkwood Gaps, Astoria settlements are still threatened by space debris of various sizes. The exterior of the Residential Complex will be plated with Foam Membrane Shields (FMS). The FMS is designed to provide protection against objects less than 1cm in diameter, while also allowing residents to enjoy the natural view of the space. 

      Each FMS unit is in a hexagonal shape and modularized. The damaged unit can be immediately replaced by a new unit. The unit is a transparent hypervelocity shield that consists of two transparent layers of composite plastic and composite fluorine materials, separated by a volume of ablating liquid. When the upper layer is penetrated by debris, the debris will be broken into smaller pieces, whose remaining energy will be absorbed by the aforementioned liquid. 

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Foam Membrane Shield (FMS)

Propulsion System

    Astoria settlement is capable of performing orbital maneuvers to change orbits or avoid impact from asteroids. Electromagnetic Induction Thrusters (EMI) are used to perform such maneuvers. 

      A total of 16 EMI thrusters are installed on the settlement, at six different orientations. EMI engine uses liquid hydrogen (LH2) as propellant, LH2 is heated up via electromagnetic induction furnaces, expands through the nozzle to generate thrust. Each thruster is capable of producing 1000 kN of thrust, propel Astoria to travel 1.6 km in under two hours. 

        EMI thrusters are also used to maintain the rotation of the Residential Complex and the Agricultural and Industrial Complex to create artificial gravity in these complexes. . 

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Electromagnetic Induction Thrusters (EMI)
Human Factors

Community Design

       The enclosed and pressurized living spaces in the Residential Complex are separated into 6 sections. This is done to ensure the safety of the whole unit. Each section has a different dedicated purpose, include the residential community section, business/recreation section, natural conservation section, etc. Among these, the residential community section is the most important for Astoria's settlers. The community designed around its residents, provides all kinds of infrastructures to ensure the comfort of its resident in the limited space. 

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Two sample layouts of the residential community section and business/recreation section
Roof top gardens

   Spacious soil is very precious in Astoria's enclosed volume, optimizing the use of vertical spaces is thus critical. 

    Since the Residential Complex is an enclosed space, many public facilities are designed to be roofless to get a better natural illumination effect. 

    Residential houses have roofs that are built into sky gardens, providing more greening and activity space for the community. Houses are built in a sunken base, with ramps leading to the roof, making a smooth seamless connection between ground greening and roof greening. 

Residential Housing

     Residential units are built with modular containers. These modular containers can be arranged to fit the needs and requirements of each unit. Before being transporting onto Astoria, these containers will be folded into sheets to save room for ease of transport. At the destination, they can be opened up to build the houses. Unconventional connecting pieces or structures are 3D printed with steel-reinforced concrete (SRC), glass-fiber reinforced gypsum (GRG), and fiber-reinforced polymer/plastic (FRP).

      Based on the requirements of each unit and the anticipated demographics of the nominal population, several types of housing were designed for settlers. 

Modular container house
Samples of different types of housing


     Airlocks are used for settlers to travel between sections with different pressures and atmospheres or conducting an external spacewalk. Airlocks on Astoria consist of a small chamber with pressure-sealing hatches and can change the internal pressure digitally via pumps. Various types of airlocks are deployed onboard the settlement, thus increasing the efficiency of inter-conplex shipping and traveling. 

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Process of transferring with the airlock

       Airlocks connecting the outer space and the internal volume are additionally equipped with dust prevention systems. Dust can be a very serious problem in low-gravity environments, especially when Astoria interfered with equipment and crewmembers that have direct contact with asteroids during mining operations.  

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Artificial Gravity

     Both the Residential Complex and the Agricultural & Industrial Complex rotate to provide artificial gravity. The gravity on the main deck of the Residential Complex is set to be 0.77g in order to reduce the cost of maintains. The Agricultural & Industrial Complex rotates in the opposite direction to counter the rotational moment, proving 0.7g at its main deck for the convenience of cargo transport and logistics. 

      AeroSeats are designed for traveling between the Central Axis and two ring-shaped complexes. Due to the loss of artificial gravity when the spoke elevator move closer to the central axis, AeroSeat can adjust its angles to facilitate the transition for passengers. 

     VelcroPads is designed to provide anchoring spots for personnel, robots, and cargos in non-gravity environments. It can be attached underneath shoes, robot limbs, or container surfaces to secure the object in place. 

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Illustration of AeroSeat in operation

      Two special cabins are designed for children on board the Astoria in the Residential Complex. It is further from the Central Axis thus capable of providing 1g artificial gravity on its deck. These cabins are specially designed to hold schools so that toddlers and young settlers are able to receive education while being exposed to full gravity to help physical growth.

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1g school cabins and its layout

Utility Robotics

      Utility robots are widely used around the Astoria settlements. There are four types of utility robots: Araneroid, Anthoroid, Bokoroid, and Ploceroid. All of them are designed with the idea of bionics, serving the settlement by simulating the way of some creatures working in their natural habitat. 

Astoria utility robotics. From left to right: Araneroid, Anthoroid, Booroid, Ploceroid

     These utility robots are modular. They will be launched together with the first batch of essentials, participate in the construction of the settlement. Araneroids will be the 3D printing construction robot to build the hull framework. Anthoroids will then be able to move along the trusses to continue construction. Its 3D printing nozzle will print out the mezzanine layers between trusses. Then, Bokoroids will enclose the interior of the settlement by printing surface materials onto the mezzanine. Once the construction is complete, the 3D printing nozzles on these robots can be replaced by other mechanisms such as hooks or clamps, they will be devoted to normal maintenance and operation tasks.