Issue #3(29) 2021 Opinion

Megasatellite habitat at Ceres

Pekka Janhunen Finnish Meteorological Institute, Helsinki, Finland

Building a settlement on Mars has gained a lot of traction in the last few years but is the red planet the best place to establish such a base? According to a recent study, such a settlement is possible but, instead of targeting a close planetary neighbour, the best place to set up a structure might be in orbit around a surviving protoplanet, one that locks up one-third of the entire mass in the asteroid belt - Ceres. The author describes this far-reaching and futuristic concept.

Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and the only dwarf planet located in the inner solar system. Ceres might seem an unusual place to build an outpost, but it has its advantages compared with other places such as Mars. The drawback of a Mars settlement is the low gravity. Although people might adapt to Martian gravity, children growing up on Mars might be physically too weak to live in a 1g environment as adults, which could preclude living on Earth.

American physicist Gerard K O’Neill is well-known for his concept of a free-space rotating cylinder settlement, which consisted of two counter-rotating cylinders that could be built using materials extracted from the Moon, and later from asteroids, to provide Earth-like 1g artificial gravity. However, the size of the cylinder is limited by mechanical constraints, so sooner or later several of them will be needed.

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