A space habitat, also called space colony, orbital colony, space city, or space settlement is a space station intended as a permanent settlement rather than as a simple waystation or other specialized facility. No space habitats have yet been constructed beyond Earth orbit, and no self-sufficient habitat has been constructed in Earth orbit either, but many design proposals have been made with varying degrees of realism by both science fiction authors and engineers.
Space habitats orbiting Earth have a number of potential advantages over those on the surface of other planets:
- Adjustable artificial gravity, via changing a colony's rotation speed. This attribute is important if humans born and raised on the colonies are to be able to return to Earth. It is expected that those born on low-gravity bodies (such as the Moon or Mars) could result in insufficient skeletal strength to function effectively in Earth's higher gravity without significant habilitation.
- Access to vast resources, including the material of the solar system's asteroids.
- Constant access to solar energy.
- Immense population capacity. Using the free-floating resources of the solar system, current estimates extend into the trillions. See the anti-congestion argument.
- Easier trade with Earth than planetary colonies, as colonies orbiting Earth will not have a gravity well to overcome to export to Earth, and a smaller gravity well to overcome to import from Earth.
But there are also drawbacks with being close to Earth, including:
- Extensive trade with Earth instead of self sufficiency means that the space colony could go under if Earth's economy collapsed.
- The proximity means that the colonists could be struck by cosmic disasters striking Earth, placing the second "egg basket" very close to the first one.
- The proximity also leaves the habitats vulnerable to Earth politics.
- Colonies far beyond Earths orbit need not necessarily be on planetary surfaces either
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