Project Orbital Ring

The field of space exploration is more active now that it has perhaps ever been.

Space agencies, startups, and well-established enterprises alike now look to our orbit, our moon, and our solar system at large to seek opportunities to make rapid advances in scientific discovery and commercial exploitation of the cosmos. Public enthusiasm for the exploitation of the heavens is similarly at the highest point since the beginning of the first Space Race over a half-century ago, with livestreams and other broadcasts of our new achievements in rocketry being a continual source of pride and spectacle.

We are, however, reaching the limits of what our rapidly advancing rocket technology is capable of, to the potentially severe detriment of human progress in this new chapter in Outer Space. Vehicles such as SpaceX’s Starship and its behemoth Super Heavy booster represent both the pinnacle of our innovation in launch technology and, unfortunately, its likely limit, beyond which it will become increasingly uneconomical, impractical, unsafe, or simply absurd to attempt to push further.

With this in mind, and with Humanity’s demands for access to the heavens showing no signs of abetting, clearly a new method of reaching the stars quickly, safely, and at the lowest possible cost is sorely needed, before our activities in space outgrow our means of sustaining them.

Credit: Adrian Mann

Enter a radical departure from the rocket- the Orbital Ring System, or ORS if you happen to be pressed for time.

Representing nothing short of the most ambitious project in the history of space exploration and exploitation, the Orbital Ring System is more or less what you would imagine it to be, a gargantuan metal ring high above the Earth, spanning the length of its 40,000 kilometer-long diameter. Such an idea sounds, to most any sane individual, to be an almost impossible enterprise, perhaps so difficult as to warrant not attempting it at all to begin with. Indeed, it is, while possible, a titanic undertaking. However, with the aforementioned advances in launch technology, launching and assembling such a structure is not the impossible task it once was, and the advantages to having an orbital ring system are well worth the still hundred of millions, if not billions in necessary funding.

What makes the Orbital Ring worth the effort lies in its unique structure, which takes advantage of having only one piece actually orbit the Earth, allowing the rest of the ring to remain completely stationary relative to the ground. This piece, a strand of metal wire orbiting the Earth at the heart of the ring, is surrounded by magnets. The forces generated by this coupling, as previously mentioned, provide support to other structures around them, allowing them to hang motionless and in full gravity without falling 80-odd kilometers to the surface below.

The Orbital Ring could easily be reached via a simple elevator or cable car utilizing relatively well-known and affordable materials, in contrast to the futuristic wonder materials required of the classic ‘Space Elevator’. Once people and cargo have been lifted up to the ring via these elevators, they can speed up to Orbital Velocity along the ring’s globe-spanning length of track, before separating from the ring. After this, the occupants are able to travel to and dock with other destinations in Earth orbit: shipyards for construction of larger crafts than could ever be built on earth, orbital factories for making fiber optic cables and other commodities, and organ farms (of a gentler sort, utilizing 3D Printing as opposed to political dissidents), etc.

This last bit is perhaps the Orbital Ring System’s greatest selling point. A massive number of startups and other organizations have plans for such infrastructure in orbit, but without a high-capacity, cheap, and efficient means of getting to their pet projects, they will remain little more than pipe dreams, unless such a means could be created.

Knowing the enormous potential this concept, this, among other things, is what inspired me to join the society, as the original 1982 research paper on this subject was written by a society member, Mr. Paul Birch. It’s also why I’ve come to the society for help. While Mr. Birch’s original paper is sound, much of its assumptions about the launch platform and materials involved, among other factors, are desperately out of date, and will need modernizing to produce a workable design suitable for the present. Unfortunately, neither engineering nor physics are talents of mine, and I personally am only suitable to be a research lackey on any project aiming to bring the ORS into the modern world. With this in mind, I am currently looking for volunteers to help lend their much needed expertise to the project.

If you or someone you know might be interested in working on this concept, please feel free to contact me at https://www.bis-space.com/forum/index.php?topic=596.0

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