In 1948 Harry Ross and Ralph Smith designed a space station, based on a concept originally described by H.Noordung in his 1928 book “Das Problem der Befahrung des Weltraums” or “The Problem with Space Travel”. Noordung had called his original idea the “Wohnrad” or “Living Wheel”. The design was a single unit with three main features. The first was a 30 m diameter living quarters. The second feature was a 60 m diameter mirror in the form of a parabolic annulus. This would collect the equivalent of 3900 kW of solar energy, of which a maximum of nearly 1000 kW might be usable. Water or mercury would be heated in ring-main of pipers at the circular focus of the mirror driving either turbo-generators housed in blisters space around the circumference of the living quarters. The black condenser tubes of this circuit, together with the radiators for the air and temperature conditioning planet were on the back of the station. The habitat of the station consisted of two concentric galleries, having a total length of 140 m. Sunlight would be admitted through rings of windows in the mirror. The galleries would be subdivided into rooms, laboratories, workshops, passageways. There would be automatically closing bulkheads to limit the damage caused by meteor penetration or other accident. It was suggested that a permanent astronaut staff of 24 people would be required. The large ‘hub’ of the station would house the air and water storage and reclamation plant, the radio gear and the attitude and spin control ‘reaction flywheels’.
The space station atmosphere would likely have consisted of a Hydrogen peroxide source for both oxygen and water, requiring 35 – 57 tonnes per year. The food ration would be 1.37 kg per day per person, which equates to 12 tonnes per year. The third feature of the space station was a lattice boom, which was supported on bearings by the barrel of the station’s rear strobe-telescope. The arm would be kept stationary (non-rotating) according to some predetermined orientation. One end of the boom was a gimbal-head carrying the radio antennae, to which access was obtained by a ladder. The other end would carry a two-deck airtight cylinder with an airlock chamber at each end. This would provide for a zero-gravity laboratory and allow an entry and exit point for the space station.
The BIS space station seems quite primitive when compared to the technology of the International Space Station today. But for its time, it was a visionary concept and the designers put a lot of thought into the engineering and basic human requirements.
Space Stations of the future may be the results of vast engineering projects, serving CIS-lunar space or even missions to Mars. Many communities may live and work on board, perhaps enjoying the low gravity afforded by a rotating structure. The ability of humans to expand off world depends on our capability to build such large structures. The work of pioneers like Noordung and Ross, pointed the way to the vision and modern space stations represent the fulfilment of their dreams.
The original paper by Harry Ross and Ralph Smith is which explained the space station design was titled “Orbital Bases, Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, Vol.8, pp.1-19, 1949”. This paper can be purchased by contacting us here.
More about the history of the BIS projects can be purchased in the book found here: Interplanetary – A History of the British Interplanetary Society.