I'm trying to design space habitats and need some estimates on this. Maintaining the lifestyle means that they are capable of produching anything you could get in the West today and are capable of heavy duty engeneering to maintain the habitat. Industries I'm interested in are agriculture (mostly vertical farming and hydroponics), heavy industry (asteroids are the source of ore) and all kinds of general goods production (anything from firearms and clothing to chocolate and nitric acid).

The answer should provide a mass, volume and average density estimate and doesn't have to be highly accurate. I would be quite happy with order of magnitude estimates, but anything more precise would be nice as well. These habitats will be build in the future, so reasonably optimistic estimates are appropriate.

Thanks in advance.

EDIT1: Assume very high levels of automatisation and that blueprints for maschine construction a bought from other habitats in the Dyson Swarm. Industrial Feedstock and energyare imported and are beyond the scope of this question. The habitats aims to be as self sufficient as reasonably possible. Assume no technology not at least in development today, but that this habitat is constructed 500 yeas in the future. The habitat should be able to maintain itself for at least a million years.

EDIT2: This question is only conciderd about the domestic industry of a small habitat. If highly specialised goods are required import is an option.

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    $\begingroup$ With what technological level? $\endgroup$
    – John
    Sep 26, 2019 at 15:59
  • $\begingroup$ @John editet question $\endgroup$ Sep 26, 2019 at 16:21
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP edited question $\endgroup$ Sep 26, 2019 at 16:21
  • $\begingroup$ Since we don’t have any known technology that can do what you want, any answers can only be about unknown technology, and will therefore just be guesses. You might as well pick whatever numbers you would find most convenient — they’ll be as good as anyone’s guess. $\endgroup$
    – Mike Scott
    Sep 26, 2019 at 16:23
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    $\begingroup$ The minimum is quite obviously no industry at all. For example, Monte Carlo is home to more than 10,000 very pampered people. If the people have enough money then they not only don't need any industry, they actively avoid having any industry near their luxurious habitats. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Sep 26, 2019 at 20:16

4 Answers 4


You can't you need Billions of people.

Modern living requires some extreme specialization, we have people who went to school to design MRI machines, a highly specialized machine made of specialized materials and only worked by highly specialized workers. That is just one cog in hte giant puzzle that is modern civilization. You need to have enough people that people can go to school to do something as specialized as build MRI machines or teach people to build MRI machines and a million other highly specialized jobs. That or you need robots that can do ALL the labor, and I do mean all, not just factory and construction but doctors and teachers as well. At which point calling them people is not unreasonable.

mass, density, and volume is dependant on transportation, which we don't know, on technology, which we don't know, and what you consider western, aquaponics takes up a lot less mass than normal agriculture, vat meat takes up far less mass than open range livestock, cottages require less mass than skyscrapers.

  • $\begingroup$ "The answer should provide a mass, volume and average density estimate" This answer does not answer the question, it just points out issues. $\endgroup$ Sep 26, 2019 at 16:16
  • $\begingroup$ The problem is with the premise, there is no combination of 10000 people and western living style possible. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Sep 26, 2019 at 16:21
  • $\begingroup$ With enough technology there is. There aren't just 10000 people, there are trillions of others in the civilisation. This question is just about the domestic industry of one habitat. $\endgroup$ Sep 26, 2019 at 16:26
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    $\begingroup$ Then the answer is whatever you want, because we don't know what is provided elsewhere. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Sep 26, 2019 at 16:29
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    $\begingroup$ This is the basic truth. Technology is a pyramid of both knowledge and infrastructure. If you want to stand at a great height, you need a massive base. Raw materials will be your worst enemy as while you can recycle everything you can't get everything back in a useful form. And everybody forgets the chain of tools you need to build a computer (starting with a simple furnace to get a basic hammer and ending with incredibly complex silicon fab facilities). On top of that is the specialization you need to keep it all running. I agree with John. Can't be done with 10K people. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Sep 26, 2019 at 21:40

I don't think it can be done with only 10,000. My professor asked that as a Dyson question one day when a bunch of us were kibitzing in his office. (I swear I learned more science in the hallway than in the classroom) The number we came up with at the time (40 years ago) was somewhere between 100 million and a billion people.

Make a list of the various high tech companies. Look up how many people work for them.

Example: Intel. How many people does it take to design and produce a chip? Who makes the equipment they use? Where do they get the ultra high purity silicon? If the market for chips was 1/100 of what it is currently, that chip would cost about 100 times as much. (Most of the money is making the first copy. After that it's cheap.)

My suspicion is that to first order, progress is some log function of how many people you have. Might be a power function. Thus if you have 10,000 people instead of 10 billion, then your progress moves at a rate of sqrt (10 bil/10 thou) -- about 1/1000th as fast.

But that's already at the stage where things break down. You just don't have enough people to have an expert in everything. Another question said, 18 farmers. But really: Growing wheat is not the same as raising pigs. And if you have 18 farmers, how often do you need to make someone a combine? Or a grain auger? Or a silage mixer? Do you weave cloth? from what? Make tubing?

Much tech is 'use it or lose it' How did the american and Canadian surveyors get the initial triangulation grid so accurate? You need not just one, but several of every kind of specialist both for redundancy, and to keep each other honed on their skills.


Warning - that what I'm doing is absolute guestimate, done for entertainment purposes only. Before building any mega structure please consult a properly certified space engineer:

1) Food... contemporary US is able to feed from hectare 16 people (except it mostly ends up as animal fodder). Using this ballpark number - 625 hectares, so if we make layers 1m tall, we would end up with cube of with edges of 184 m.

Yes, I know future GMO would be much better, but we would also be much more picky.

2) Energy... People at Iceland use 24kW. We want to run some high tech industry and use 10 times more. At Earth orbit we get 1.361 kW/m2, and reasonable solar cells would give 20%. 882m2 of solar panels per head. So we're talking here about solar panel, that would be a square with edge of 3 km.

3) Industry... argh... OK... You wanted smelting some metal? OK. I've found online some arc furnace, for a few tones of metal. Actually does not look so big, and looks as something to be put in a big workshop, if one got desperate. OK... imagine 1000 machines, each of them takes 100 m3... Not bad. So roughly counting a cube with edge of 46m.

4) Shielding... I highly suspect that people on such station would expect some not so bad shielding, not only against gamma radiation, but also against particle radiation. And we're talking here about a few meters of (presumably) water. So either you manage to put your hydroponic here, or you end up with some extra mass. (or even more likely both - first merely water, then hydroponic, then actually humans)


Transport and (non-agricultural) Industry: Most western cities use about 20% of their footprint (square meters) on transportation, and around 15-20% of their footprint on manufacturing and warehousing.

Transport includes roads, railways, and utility infrastructure. As your habitat grows, this percentage of volume will tend to increase as more and larger trams and pipes and ducts and conduits are needed to ship more people, goods, and energy longer distances. Since the initial 20% is area, not volume, I think you can fudge the initial internal volume a bit lower...closer to 15%. But remember that you'll need a big docking/customs/marshalling volume at the spaceport, and that's NOT included in the 15%. Mass and density of most transport (except piping, of course) tends to be low - elevator shafts are mostly empty air.

Industry (non-agricultural) includes refining, manufacturing, and storage. Sometimes it also includes transport and life-support (water treatment, trash disposal, energy) but let's leave those out for this. Most western cities use about 15-20% of their area for industrial use. Urban areas tend to have smaller industry...but then large suburban belts of industry. As cities grow, this percentage tends to decrease a bit, but there are exceptions.

Industry tends to be more volume-intensive than transport or residential, so you will probably want to reserve around 20% (or maybe more). Industry is a big consumer of transport and energy, so be sure to place industrial volumes to minimize those extra costs. Industry also tends to be somewhat heavy - a good planning factor will be 150kg/cubic meter. You cannot pack too much together - heat and safety management will require some spacing, but that gets balanced by the dense bulk storage needed.

A quick step back to life support. Each person produces about 2 kg of trash daily, around 150-200 liters of wastewater, and about 11,000 liters of exhaled air. Plus industrial and household HAZMAT, air and water pollution from industry or misuse, etc.


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