Space Cities of Kas Smith's The Black Guard: Can They Work?
What true space opera would be complete without at least a mention of some form of space cities?
True enough, in the first instalment of the new epic space saga by Kas Smith, The Black Guard: Quest For The Inviolable Man, two human cities, domed and floating in space, play a role in the intergalactic politics.
If you've read the book, then you already know that a great war is going on. The humans have teamed up with their alien foe, known as Horaxians, to fight the greater evil that threatens to erase both races.
There is only one man that could help save this unlikely alliance from the overwhelming enemy forces. This man, as powerful as he is mysterious, is a knight of the so-called Black Guard, which the young protagonist of the book sets out to find.
While our hero is off on his adventure full of daring deeds and great unknowns, let's focus a bit on some other facets, instead. For example, two space cities mentioned in book, Biosphere-9 and Biosphere-12 are marvels of human technology and our space construction prowess.
What are space cities?
Space cities, when we talk about them from a science perspective, come in three basic flavours. The "easiest", or at least the most straightforward way of building one, is to colonize an earth-like stellar body.
Second option is to build a city floating in low-earth orbit, slowly adding new modules and pieces.For example, if we were to use the International Space Station as nucleus on which we would than add commercial ports and segments.
Third, and the most alien one, is to build a city floating in free space, without gravitational influence of a nearby planet. While the free space model would be tricky, it would bring numerous benefits, not the least being their potential for pit stops or refuelling stations for extremely long journeys.
Space colonies are numerous in this book and house millions of people, while being self-sufficient. Some are located on 4 exoplanets and our very own moon. The author didn't shy away from scale, and as such, the Biosphere-12 is the size of Canada with over 3 billion people in it. The slightly smaller Biosphere-9 houses around 600 million in the city that was designated for 250 million, which brings a new meaning to overcrowded.
Now, these space cities are completely impossible with today's technology. Why? Well, first of all, gravity poses a problem. There is none in space. While this might seem neat, humans (and any other vertebrates) need gravity, due to a number of health issues that occur during a prolonged zero-g stay, such as reduced bone density, eyesight, sinus problems, and so on.
Problems and potential solutions
The only solution we currently have for such a problem is to create a rotating mass, and use inertial forces to act as gravity. That's why any scientifically sound idea of a space city is usually in a shape of a hollowed out cylinder. In this rotating system, the "ground" would be the inside curved surface of a cylinder to which we would stick to due to the centripetal force.
Besides being a really weird place to live in, this idea proved to be a suitable physiological substitute for gravity, during all tests that we have made so far. Of course, provided the cylinders are big enough and turning slowly enough, otherwise they would cause perpetual motion sickness.
The second major problem would be protection - from radiation, the outside vacuum and even violent attacks by the enemy forces, which are a common staple in any self-respecting military science fiction. The first, and a simpler, way would be to create a hard shell, or hull, that would encase the whole city. In the example of our cylinder-city that shell would also act as ground, as already mentioned.
However, if we were to build a flat city, with artificial gravity, we would need some kind of a space dome to protect it from all the harmful events that might happen. This dome could either be made from some sort of a super strong mesh, made out of nanofibre composites, which would have enough tensile and compressive strength to support its own weight and fight the potentially huge forces that could affect it (we are talking about a dome several kilometres high). Second option, although seemingly more implausible, would be to generate some form of forcefield.
Space construction is really not easy
If we presume that numerous advances have been made in the future, whether on our own, or with the help of benevolent aliens, we can also assume that we would maybe find a way to manipulate gravity. This is not out of the realm of possibility as we know so little about how gravity works actually. Only recently have we, for the first time in our history, observed gravitational waves.
We're not even sure what accounts for almost 95% of the mass of the universe. We call it dark matter and dark energy, and we hypothesize about it a lot, but this all leads to the conclusion that we might actually be able to create some form of a gravity generator in the future. Same goes for the space dome’s forcefield: We could probably master the generation of particle fields that could stop any form of matter and energy to pass through.
Creating and powering both these systems would require a huge amount of energy. Which leads us to the problem number three - Power generation. Maybe we could create huge solar panel farms (or whatever would the equivalent of the time be) that would span for thousands of kilometres in order to create enough energy to power the entire city.
The other promising power source would be antimatter, as it would give us the best weight to power generation ratio. We have managed to generate maybe several grams of antimatter in total so far on Earth, in thousands of experiments. However, these particles we created only existed for fractions of seconds, before being annihilated due to contact with ordinary matter. It is obvious that we would have to solve the containment and production issues first.
The more mundane problems
Besides these highly advanced problems, there is also the issue of city supplies, infrastructure, and logistics. For example, an average American household consumes around 911 kWh of power per month. If we are to round that up to one megawatt and assume a four-member household, a space colony of 600 million would consume 150 million Mwh per month. If we make another assumption, that all the businesses use the same amount of power, we could estimate that a total city power consumption would be at least 300 000 000 Mwh.
For comparison sake, the Three Gorges Hydropower plant, the biggest power plant currently built, can produce a maximum of around 16 Twh (16 million Mwh) per month, which means we would need 19 of those to power the entire city. Of course, we've not accounted for transportation and food and water production.
An average human being needs around 2 litres of water and 2 kg of food each day. On top of this, we are currently extremely inefficient and wasteful in our water consumption, as we use it for cleaning, showers, dish and laundry washing, and so on.
Direct human consumption alone would require over one million tons of food and water per day. Our water consumption would probably be quite higher than that, but let's assume extreme recyclability and efficiency, which would make total water consumption of 2 million tons of water. First of all, we would need some place to store all this water and food.
Second, we would need a highly efficient system to grow food that requires as little space as possible. We can almost be certain that all the food production would be done via hydroponic farms, most probably subterranean, as well as rooftop farms. Meat would be at a premium, as we would mostly produce meat substitutes, due to the large amount of space, food, water and energy needed for livestock. We would also need a way to produce water. Our best bet would be to directly synthesize it from oxygen and hydrogen that we could harvest from nebulas or gas giants.
Transportation could to be accomplished using vacuum tubes trains to reduce friction and power loss. However, one thing that could prove to be extremely beneficial would be the possibility of creating zero-g zones that would enable us to further diminish transportation energy consumption by removing localised gravity. We would be able to float cargo (trains for e.g.) over distances, although energy would still be required to initially propel the cargo, and then slow it down at reception.
Talking about systems such as these in terms of technology of today is tricky. There is an old adage known as Clarke's third law that says: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
So who knows what the future may bring? One thing is certain: humanity’s indomitable spirit and thirst for knowledge would see us build cities such as this one day, if it were ever possible. It is merely a question of time.
I hope that you found the issues presented here interesting and fun. Leave your comments below, and share this article if you liked it.
If you haven’t yet, check out the new science fantasy book by Kas Smith, The Black Guard Quest For The Inviolable Man available on amazon, or on his website at:
- Kas Smith
Kas Smith is an author of modern science fantasy, military science fiction, space opera and science fiction. His highly anticipated novel, The Black Guard – Quest for the Inviolable Man, is out now.