Japanese researchers believe the artificial gravity structure can make off-world living plausible.
The concept of using rotational force to generate artificial gravity for space habitats has been floating around since NASA called it theoretically viable in the 1960s. Now Japanese researchers hope to spend the next century building out that theory with cone-shaped contraptions that make living on either the moon or Mars gravitationally possible.
The partnership between Kyoto University and Kajima Corporation aims to create a scaled-down prototype that uses rotational forces to craft artificial gravity for a moon facility by 2050. The team plans to spend the next 100-plus years working out living conditions on the moon and Mars—and a delivery method to get folks to space.
“We propose that artificial gravity living facility is regarded as the core technology for human beings to advance into space,” the team says in a news release.
The structure, dubbed “The Glass,” uses the widely held theory that rotational forces placed on a structure can generate similar gravitational forces as happen on Earth. Anyone who’s almost lost their lunch inside the Gravitron ride at their local amusement park stop knows the basics behind the plan, and the spin-inducing trick behind making this work.
The smaller the object, the faster the rotation. In the Japanese proposal, The Glass structure resembles a cone stretching 1,300 feet tall. At this size, the centrifugal force achieved through rotation to mimic Earth’s gravity sufficiently requires a full rotation of the living structure every 20 seconds. The concept is not far off from the O’Neill cylinder in the how-to space book, The High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space. Hopefully that’s fast enough to create a gravitational pull within the facility, but not so fast it makes living unbearable.
Having the proper gravitational impact offers a critical step to allowing people to move back and forth between Earth and space, living in one setting for an extended period without experiencing ill-effects when they return to the other. Living without gravity places a reduced workload on muscles and bones, weakening them, and can wreak havoc on typical fluid flow within the body, leading to pooling of blood and health complications. A lack of gravity on developing children would have its own harmful effects.
“When a person grows under a zero or low-gravity environment, their body would change so they wouldn’t be able to stand up on Earth,” the team says. That’s because their muscles and skeleton just wouldn’t develop fully enough to withstand Earth’s gravity.
Embracing the inertia created with centrifugal force aims to offset the ill-effects. First, the team hopes to craft the core of the artificial gravity living facilities. Next, the team wants to create a Hexagon Space Track System, some sort of galaxy express line that travels from Earth to the Moon and on to Mars, to shuttle people back and forth between Earth and the space-living facilities. These proposals may seem far-fetched at the moment, but would be necessary steps to fulfilling the dream of living off-world.
But the challenge of constructing a building nearly as tall as the Empire State Building and sending it into space is daunting, which is a key reason the concept of artificial gravity has remained only an idea since the 1960s.