Building Skyscrapers in Orbit

by Michael J. Bartos, Jr., (A.M.ASCE), Asst. Editor; CIVIL ENGINEERING—ASCE, New York, N.Y.,

Serial Information: Civil Engineering—ASCE, 1979, Vol. 49, Issue 7, Pg. 66-70

Document Type: Feature article


NASA plans to build a host of large structures (communications antennas, remote-sensing radiometers, solar power satellites, etc.) in space. Three ways to build them are: (1)Fabricate and assemble on earth, transport by Shuttle for deployment in orbit; (2)fabricate on earth, assemble in orbit; and (3)fabricate and assemble in orbit. The last of these offers the advantages of packaging density (for maximum transportation efficiency using the Shuttle) and may be the only feasible method for building very large structures, such as the solar power satellite, which may be as large as 6.5 miles by 3.3 miles by 1650 ft deep. Three companies are developing machines that will automatically fabricate structural beams in orbit; one working prototype exists. Two machines will make beams triangular in cross section, the third circular. Materials include aluminum and advanced composites of graphite fibers in resin matrices. Initial construction will use the Shuttle as a construction base; later, a construction platform will serve as a space factory for building structures too large or complicated for the Shuttle.

Subject Headings: Solar power | Space construction | High-rise buildings | Orbits | Satellites | Space structures | Construction equipment | Beams

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