In the future gas giants, ice giants, mini neptunes and gas dwarfs have been colonised. The colonisers use either hot hydrogen or vacuum in rigid ballons to keep their cloud cities up in the endless sky. The colonisers would want to get around, so they need some kind of vehicle. While vehicles will obviously be personalised to fit more specific needs, I belive that there will be a number of characteristics which most of them will have in common. There are the ones I came up with. A vehicle doesn't need to have all of these characteristics, depending on its purpose.

  • in-atmosphere engines: turbine, ramjet, scramjet

The normal turbine engines will be used to manover and to get up to speed and the ramjet and scramjet will be used for travel. Helicopter style propellers might be used for manovering as well.

  • power: chemical, monopropellant, nuclear

The chemical option would mean carrying oxygen on bord as fuel, as it can be burned with atmospheric hydrogen. The monopropellant option means metallic hydrogen, which can be produced in the cloud cities. Nuclear would mean He3+De fusion. This is a common technology in the setting, as it was perfected for spacecrafts, and the atmospere of a gas world is full of fuel. Waste heat management won't be an issue as it will be on a spacecraft. In my opinion nuclear is the best option by far.

  • deployable units for lighter-than-air flight

The ability to decrease the vehicles density so it can rest somewhere in the atmosphere is interesting for many purposes. Some vehicles might be actual airships. The ballons would either be filled with hot hydrogen or be rigid vacuum carriers.

  • space capability

If metallic hydrogen is used, the vehicle actually is a rocketship already. Oxygen and Nuclear based vehicles would need to take on hydrogen as ejection mass. Space capability is interesting as it would allow faster travel around the planet and rendezvous with real spacecrafts.

Are there other general characteristics a gas planet vehicle should have?

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    $\begingroup$ I'd be interested to see how heavy radiation shielding, which might be a good characteristic to add, could exist on vacuum balloons. I imagine you'll need big balloons already - but if your vehicle walls have to be thickened to keep colonists safe, the balloons may have to be colossal. Unless your planets have strong magnetic fields like Jupiter which could keep most of the radiation out. I guess it depends on the strength of the field and whether the cloud tops are safe as a result. $\endgroup$
    – Zxyrra
    Jan 30, 2020 at 21:49
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    $\begingroup$ The "ram" in ramjet isn't an acronym, so there's no need for capitals. Scramjet is a contraction, so that doesn't need em either. $\endgroup$ Jan 30, 2020 at 22:31
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    $\begingroup$ Minor note - on Earth planes bring fuel with them to combust with the oxygen in the air. On gas planets, the atmosphere is full of fuel - so you'd bring oxygen with you. $\endgroup$
    – 10762409
    Jan 31, 2020 at 0:14
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    $\begingroup$ @Zxyrra What if the balloon IS the shielding? $\endgroup$
    – Ryan_L
    Jan 31, 2020 at 0:41
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    $\begingroup$ @Zxyrra If you mean radiation from space, the magnetospheres, which at least all of the giant planets in the solar system have will help. However they aren't even required. The upper atmosphere of Venus, where aerial colonies are already considered is pretty decent shielded by the atmospere and the magnetosheat it forms interacting with the solar wind. Radiation from the reactor can be dealt with by placing the reactor in the rear, some directional shielding, a deployable shield for docking and genetically engeneering the passengers to be resistant to radiation. $\endgroup$ Jan 31, 2020 at 10:51

2 Answers 2


Here's a great place to start: Interplanetary Cessna - XKCD What If?

As a human on Earth, you have a great advantage in determining what you need, in that the Sol system has 4 gas giants of its own, each fairly well-studied and visited by numerous probes. Randall Munroe's What If question focused on using an ordinary Earth airplane, the Cessna 172 (one of the most common in North America) which, for most of the gas giants, turns out to be an example of what not to do.

enter image description here

Let's model your own gas giant after Jupiter; it's not quite as friendly as Saturn to air travel, but it's the first gas giant a casual reader will think of, and most planets we know of are "super-Jovian" gas giants even bigger than Jupiter. The problems you'll face get bigger as the planet does, because the planet's gravity limits the thickness of an actual gaseous atmosphere. Your habitable range of Earth-like atmospheric pressures will end up about the same height above the transition to a liquid layer, meanwhile the gravity of that ever-bigger ball of liquid hydrogen under you will make it that much harder to stay afloat as the size of the planet increases. If you can solve Jupiter's problems, it will be that much easier to solve problems of a smaller giant like Saturn, and you'll have that much more of a leg up on the problems of a superjovian.

Here's a short list of the things your Jovian airplane will need:

  • Oxidizer where fuel normally goes. Most gas giants are primarily hydrogen; there's relatively little of anything else but hydrogen in any one place to make a planet of this size (while we have found "mega-Earths", primarily solid planets many times Earth's mass, superjovians are much more common among cataloged exoplanets to date). That means that your airplane is flying in its own fuel, unlike an Earth aircraft which flies in its own oxidizer. Your engines, if "air-breathing", will actually aspirate the hydrogen atmosphere, combine it with oxygen from its internal storage tanks, and ignite that mixture to produce thrust from heated gas. It's kind of a backwards way to think about it, but as long as you get the mixtures right it works exactly the same way (other than the fact that mostly for safety reasons but also for some practical ones, modern airliners don't run on hydrogen).

  • Big wings and lotsa thrust. At atmospheric pressures comparable to Earth's atmosphere, the gravity of Jupiter is about two and a half times as much as on Earth. Go higher to reduce relative gravity, and you'll have less gas flowing over your wings to generate lift and through your engines to produce thrust (and you won't get anywhere near Earth gravity while still in anything you'd call Jupiter's atmosphere). So, you need a plane with about 2.5x the lift-to-mass and thrust to mass ratio of a plane designed for Earth, because that same plane, of the same mass, will weigh 2.5x as much in Jupiter's atmosphere, and so lift-to-weight and thrust-to-weight will be reduced by that same factor.

We have to deal with this kind of math fairly regularly in designing Earth aircraft. The interior volume of a passenger aircraft is a rough analog of the plane's max takeoff weight, due to a combination of regulations, physics, and plain old common sense about things like minimum airspace per passenger that keeps them coming back for another flight in your sardine cans. The heavier the aircraft, the larger its wings must be, however wings don't scale the same way fuselages do; if the wing's cross-section gets too thick, you end up increasing leading-edge drag too much, so the most efficient airfoils for large aircraft remain relatively thin as wingspan and chord length increase. This means that superjumbos like the B747 and A380 have much larger wing areas as a ratio of their fuselage "footprint" compared to smaller "single-aisle" jets like the B737 and A320.

Your Jovian aircraft, for the same volume, will weigh 2.5x as much as on Earth. We can compensate for that in Earth's atmosphere by simply increasing mass by 2.5x for the same volume of aircraft. As it happens, the Boeing 737-800 and the Boeing 767-300ER have almost exactly the necessary relation in max take-off weight. So, in theory, if you take the 767's wings and engines and put them on a 737, you have about the necessary lift it would take to fly that 737 on Jupiter. That would increase the wingspan by about two-thirds (from 93' to 156'), and would about triple wing area (979.9 ft^2 to 3050 ft^2). You'd also go beyond any possibility of the engines being underslung on the wings (the up-engine to the -300 series already necessitating the noncircular "hamster-pouch" engine nacelles) and so you would have to find some other agreeable place on the 737 to put the 767's 8-foot-diameter CF6 engines.

  • Totally sealed interior, at least for oxygen-breathing inhabitants. Jupiter's atmosphere again being mostly hydrogen, you really don't want any of that within livable spaces of the aircraft. Hydrogen has one of the wider flammability ranges of any flammable gas; in concentrations as low as 5% and as high as 95% in otherwise Earth-proportioned air mixture, you will get ignition, and in anything but the absolute extremes of that range it will explode quite spectacularly, with the stoichiometric ratio of hydrogen in air being about 9.5%. So, while your plane doesn't actually have to maintain that much of a pressure differential to fly in Jupiter's atmosphere (though you would get a similar drag-reducing benefit flying higher than Earth sea level pressures, and you'd probably want some sort of crush pressure rating in case a plane descended deeper for any reason), the passenger cabin must be totally airtight.

The problem is that airliners are not and have never been airtight; they circulate outside air into the cabin from the initial compression stages of their engine, cooled with heat exchangers, to maintain sea level pressures within the cabin. Even at a quarter-billion dollars or more apiece, it's just too expensive for the manufacturer to deliver an airplane that is totally airtight, and too expensive for the airline to keep it that way, not to mention that changing the air within the cabin is the easiest way to mitigate objectionable smells (like the passenger three rows up who really should have showered before getting on a plane). Positive cabin pressure, fairly easy for most phases of flight, would ensure that any hydrogen-oxygen mixture due to leakage happens outside the plane, but that oxygen would need to be replaced, which is its own problem.

  • Total IFR with Satellite navigation. We casually view a city built over a gas giant to look like Bespin from Star Wars; a towering metropolis nestled conveniently in the upper cloud layers of the planet from which it's extracting useful material. enter image description here

In reality, at Earth pressure, what you're going to get looks less like Bespin and more like Beijing, when the Olympics aren't in town: enter image description here

In flight, there are two basic sets of rules for flying. Visual flight rules or VFR are for when you can see where you're going. Instrument flight rules or IFR are for when you can't. Jupiter's atmosphere at Earth-like pressures will definitely be the latter, requiring pilots to rely primarily on instruments to navigate. That in itself is not as big a problem as it sounds; airline pilots fly using IFR almost all the time for a combination of safety and practicality. The problems center around the very basic difference between Earth and Jupiter; nothing is anchored to the ground, because any "ground" to speak of is tens of thousands of miles deeper and thousands of degrees hotter than anyone or anything can survive.

Jupiter does have a magnetosphere; quite a strong one in fact, about ten times the field strength and 18000 times the magnetic moment, so the biggest problem you'll have with a traditional compass is dealing with severe magnetic dip (the magnet will orient along the lines of the magnetic field, which are not perpendicular to gravity or parallel to the "surface" along which you're flying). A fluid-filled spherical compass would need to be a little larger than usual to keep the azimuth lines accurate and readable at higher latitudes of the sphere as the compass dips, or you could just ditch the magnet and use solid-state magnetometers, which are what modern airliners use (because the data can be easily fed into digital flight displays and computerized flight directors/autopilots).

The bigger problem is that, very unlike any terrain feature on Earth which would only move relative to very far-away objects on other plates, and even then only at a rate of a couple inches a year, a city floating along in Jupiter's atmosphere will be carried along by zonal jets averaging about 60mph, and buffeted by true storms that exceed even the Enhanced Fujita scale for tornadoes, with wind speeds over 350mph. These zonal jets move in opposing directions, so more than one city at more than one latitude (which you'd have, otherwise why bother flying) would mean that flight plans between the two cities would look more like orbital trajectories than terrestrial travel plans. Your reckoned course from one city to the other would have you flying along a path that compensates not only for the distance the destination city will move along its own zonal stream during your time of flight, but the relative wind speeds of all the layers you'll travel through on your way there, which will blow you left and right as you move north or south around the planet. You do have to account for the prevailing wind direction and average speed on Earth, as you will be flying through a mass of air that is itself moving relative to Earth's surface, but the triangulation required for your average terrestrial flight plan would have nothing on the math to reckon your course around Jupiter.

And, weather conditions can change. "Dead reckoning", a purely mathematical, instrument-based course-calculation, is called that for a very good reason; you are right, or you're dead. Even IFR on Earth requires the pilot to use visual cues to correct for any inaccuracy, and most private civilian navigation is done using waypoints based either on terrain features or navigational beacons at precisely-known locations (which broadcast signals that allow you to know your exact bearing from that beacon, and knowing the angle of azimuth from each beacon gives you a triangular fix of your location). Once again, nothing on Jupiter's surface is in a fixed location, so there is no such thing as a "terrain feature" or a "navigational beacon" from which to triangulate.

The solution required would be similar to the system we've had since about 1997; the Global Positioning System. A constellation of satellites in a very precisely-calculated system of orbits, with very finely-synchronized chronometers aboard, such that every position on earth is within line of sight of at least 4 of these satellites. The position of any satellite at any given point in time after the system's initial epoch can be calculated based on their known, stable orbits, and each satellite is sending a time-coded bitstream that allows the receiver to calculate the "time of flight" of that signal, which when multiplied by the speed of light, gives you the distance to that satellite. Knowing the distance to one satellite, along with its current position over the earth, means you are somewhere along a near-circle on the idealized Earth's surface (a perfectly smooth oblate spheroid) that you'd get by drawing on a globe using a pencil of that length anchored at the position of the satellite. The measurement from two satellites gives you a second intersecting circle that ideally provides a maximum of two possible locations on the Earth's surface that you could be, and three different satellites will in most cases give you a unique position fix within the margin of error of the distance measurements. Four are typically used in GPS to guarantee an accurate fix, because the orbital dynamics of the constellation mean that two satellites can be relatively close in position which reduces accuracy.

Navigation in Jupiter's atmosphere, within which nothing is in a totally fixed position, would require a "JPS" system that would give similar distance-based position fixes within Jupiter's atmosphere. Ideally, signals could be received from below what would be Earth's horizon, which would allow altitude calculations based on the calculation of your position in 3D space, reducing reliance on a pressure altimeter (vital but troublesome even on Earth, as surface barometric pressure can change by enough to matter in less than an hour). If you're going to get from one city to the other, and you're not absolutely sure of the wind speeds in the zonal jets between the two cities, this is the only way you'll get close enough.

  • A steady supply of both oxygen and an inert gas. When we're talking about breathing oxygen within a hydrogen atmosphere, things get much more difficult. The pressure differential isn't even that much of an advantage, because you still can't have any leaks; any slight pressure differential between inside and outside will leak one gas into the other, and as I said before, hydrogen gas in an oxygen environment has a ridiculously wide window of flammable concentration, which only gets wider when you enrich the atmosphere with a higher partial pressure of oxygen.

That's the first problem; Apollo, the Space Shuttle and even early space stations like Skylabs and Mir got by on a low-pressure, oxygen-rich atmosphere. This reduces the required pressure handling of the spacecraft, and also reduces the amount of tanks of gas that have to be dealt with to maintain the proper atmosphere. The ISS, designed for longer-term stays (and with more frequent unmanned resupply launches) incorporates nitrogen into the mix, which reduces flammability in the environment, increasing safety, and also reduces the aging effects of high-oxygen environments on human tissues ("antioxidants" are essential vitamins for a real good reason; while we run on oxygen, it also causes cellular damage and aging, and these effects increase with concentration). Either nitrogen or argon (a totally inert gas) would be that much more necessary when the outside environment isn't a vacuum, but instead a ready supply of go-boom. Airlocks can't just pressurize with an atmospheric mix, they have to first purge the hydrogen completely before adding oxygen, otherwise you're creating a fuel-air bomb in your airlock as you oxygenate it. That means nitrogen is a "consumable"; you blast it into your airlocks as an intermediate step between introducing oxygen or hydrogen into that chamber, so those two gases are never in sufficient partial pressures to become a fire hazard. This will almost certainly require expelling quite a bit of nitrogen out into the outer atmosphere, just to be sure you have all the hydrogen out.

Overall, a slightly positive air pressure within oxygenated habitats is preferable, because then any leaks at least leak oxygen out into the surrounding air where wind currents dissipate it into harmless concentrations relatively quickly. But this creates a problem; that oxygen leakage is gone forever. You can't reclaim it from the Jovian atmosphere. Neither, for that matter, can you reclaim the nitrogen. Once it's been released into Jupiter's atmosphere, it has to be replaced from some other source.

Why is that, you ask? Well, because these gases are denser. At the same pressure, both oxygen and nitrogen weigh much more than hydrogen, which is why a balloon filled with it floats in Earth's air. In Jupiter's hydrogen atmosphere, the opposite happens; any oxygen that enters the Jovian atmosphere will sink into the depths of the planet, until it becomes hot enough that combustion to produce water vapor (or, for nitrogen, hydrogenation to produce ammonia) becomes favorable. That water is even denser, and will continue to sink into the increasingly dense, high-pressure supercritical liquid mostly-hydrogen oceans of the Jovian "surface", far deeper than any human man or machine could hope to venture. Even if we could get down into deeper layers, the best we can hope to pull back is ammonia (NH3) which is theorized to exist in some abundance in the intermediate layers of Jupiter's atmosphere. We can dehydrogenate ammonia pretty easily by burning it in oxygen (that process is far easier than making ammonia on Earth; the Haber process requires temperatures and pressures not unlike what you'll find a few miles below Earth pressures on Jupiter), giving us some nitrogen gas back (we can reclaim the oxygen from the water with electrolysis or high-temperature cracking, but neither are an efficient process).

Any oxygen release into the Jovian atmosphere is likely a total waste; the resulting water will be denser at any ambient pressure than anything else around it until the supercritical steam reaches the solid core of the planet, composed of everything Jupiter's Hoovered up over the eons. And you're 630 million miles from the closest breathable natural atmosphere in the Solar System, at the very closest; when Earth and Jupiter are on opposite sides of the sun, you're a couple billion miles from anything readily breathable.

There is some good news; Jupiter's moon Europa is an ice ball, completely covered in water ice (very likely with a liquid water ocean under that), and it's the second-closest major moon in orbit to Jupiter, so it's a relative hop-skip-jump out of the upper Jovian atmosphere compared to getting anywhere else. It would, if we're talking colonization, be a much easier "errand trip" to send ships to collect and bring back some of Europa's water, which can then be drunk, used in hydroponics, electrolyzed to oxygen, whatever use the Jovian colonies have for it. Europa also has a thin oxygen atmosphere, caused by radiolysis of the water molecules of the ice surface by a combination of solar radiation and charged particles from Jupiter's magnetosphere. Compressing that to any useful pressure would likely be a waste of time during a manned mission - the atmosphere is about 1 trillionth the pressure of Earth sea level - but it could be a worthwhile endeavor to land solar-powered compressors that could work for months on end between trips to produce relatively easy-to-use bottles of compressed or liquid oxygen.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, can't we deal with the higher gravity by flying through a lower, higher pressure layer of the atmospere? $\endgroup$ Jan 31, 2020 at 4:59
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    $\begingroup$ More air density means more lift, but also more drag. So, you could fly lower and reduce needed wing size, but then your engines would need more thrust to overcome drag. At any rate, even if you cruise lower, your takeoffs and landings would be at or near city altitude, and your wings would need sufficient lift to climb back out of the denser layers. You could again overcome this with even more thrust, but eventually you're not building a plane anymore, you're building a rocket with some semblance of a glide slope. As we learned from the Shuttle, if you're gonna build a rocket, build a rocket. $\endgroup$
    – KeithS
    Jan 31, 2020 at 14:42

I'm going to consider hydrogen/helium rich warm gas giants like Jupiter and Saturn, here. Things are different for cooler ice giant worlds, so I'll leave those for another day. I'll use "gas" instead of "air" to refer to the planetary atmospheres, and hence "gascraft" instead of "aircraft", etc.

The biggest problem you'll have with hydrogen-rich gas giants is atmospheric density. Even when the atmospheric pressure is friendly Earth-sea-level like, densities will be a fraction of the density of our atmopshere (which is why hydrogen balloons float up on Earth, obviously). Lift is proportional to density, which means that wings for use in a gas giant atmosphere are going to have to be pretty big... as a ballpark figure, perhaps 10 times as large, to generate the same lifting force as a wing on Earth.

This will only be compounded if you want to live on a huge world like Jupiter, where gravity is already more than twice as strong at the altitude where you'd find Earth-like pressure, so you'll be wanting wings that are more than twenty times bigger!

On the bright side though, drag is proportional to density. Drag is also proportional to velocity squared, so you could travel at 3.5-4x the speed you might in Earth's atmosphere for the same amount of effort. Lift is also proportional to velocity squared, which means that for high speed aircraft you can make up for the lower lift provided by the thin atmosphere. The speed of sound in hydrogen is also about 4x higher, so you can travel much faster and still remain subsonic.

So, take-home message: no low-speed gascraft that use wings for lift. High speed gascraft might look more like lower-speed aircraft on Earth. Because winged gascraft will likely be travelling really fast, you won't want them going too close to habitats and other facilities for safety reasons. Their bases (gasports? gasbases?) will be therefore well separated.

If you're not going anywhere in too much of a hurry, use a lighter-than-atmosphere craft, using the same floatation devices your habitats use. Remember again that the low-density hydrogen atmosphere means low drag, so your zeppelins can travel much faster than they could on Earth. Escape craft, escape pods and parachute-equivalents will also need to be balloons of some kind to either stop descent or delay it for long enough to affect a rescue!

I'm not going to attempt to work out the issues helicopters might face. Maybe another time. If your fusion reactors have a good enough power-to-weigh ratio, it may be possible to make vehicles or platforms that can hover and station-keep for extended periods of time using orientable or downward facing jets or fans. This might be a way to allow your super-high-speed winged aircraft to approach habitation safely at low speeds without needing to be bouyant.

You've suggested metallic hydrogen as a useful monopropellant, implying that in your universe it is definitely metastable at sensible temperatures and pressures. However. There are a few issues with the substance listed on Project Rho. One of them is that the temperature of a rocket engine using the stuff is very high (like, engine-vapourisingly high), and even if you use hydrogen as a coolant you'll still drop your Isp to a mere thousand seconds or so. Not bad, compared to mere chemical rockets, but not really enough to easily get you into space in such a deep gravity well.

Secondly, that whole metastability thing. It packs about 50 times more energy than TNT, per unit mass, and you probably don't need to apply much oomph to it to make it cook off. Everything fuelled with metallic hydrogen should be considered a bomb (or missile) until proven otherwise, and should be used and parked at a very safe remove from most habitation and industrial facilities. It might not even be safe to use it too close to nuclear reactors, if there's a chance that a stray fast neutron or suitably energetic gamma-ray might push a little blob of the stuff over the energy barrier and into explosive decomposition.

Another take-home note: metallic hydrogen is hugely dangerous, and no-one will want it used anywhere near anything.

With regards to space-capability, that's a tricky one, something that's heavily dependent on how massy your gas giant is. But, TL;DR: metallic hydrogen is not going to get you into orbit, even before you dilute it to stop your rockets melting.

The first thing to remember is that gas giants are big, and to get to the equivalent of Low Earth Orbit where you'll be at least temporarily stable, you'll have to fly up pretty high and that means you need lots of energy. To lift an object from the Earth's surface to a 250km altitude, you need to provide at least 2.4MJ/kg (note: this excludes the energy required to reach orbital velocity!). You need 10 times as much to reach 1000km over the 1-bar level on Jupiter, and you might not even be far enough above the atmosphere to be able to maintain your altitude as long as you would at 250km on Earth.

Orbital velocity at 1000km above Jupiter is ~41km/s. At 1000km above Saturn is ~25km/s. That's a huge around of delta-V you'll need, on top of the steep gravity well you're trying to climb out of, and in the case of Jupiter, you'll be needing rockets that can deliver more than twice the thrust of their Earth-equivalents at the same time as lifting all that stuff out. That's a pretty tall order, and might require some seriously powerful nuclear rockets to get you out. An Orion drive might be worth considering here.

Of course, you don't need to orbit; as you pointed out, getting above the atmosphere seems like a good way to cover long distances in a sensible time, if that seemed important. Boost-glide vehicles are probably what you want there... long, low suboribtal trajectories that skip off the upper atmosphere. The aerodynamics and design of such vehicles will be quite different from either the large-winged fast gascraft or bouyant slow gascraft mentioned above, and trying to combine multiple modes of operation is probably just asking for inefficiencies. Don't compromise; specialise. The environment is already punishing enough without silly designs and unnecessary extra engines and control systems to make flight more inconvenient!

For chemical fuels (and indeed, for some or more of the elements that you'll need to keep your habitats running) you will have to either a) ship it in from elsewhere (such as the Jovian moons) or b) harvest it from deeper in the gas giant's atmosphere. Jupiter, at least, has ammonia and water cloud decks, which should offer excellent sources of nitrogen and oxygen. You need to drop perhaps 100km below the 1-bar altitude, and the pressure will rise by a factor of ten and the temperature will at least double (which is inconvenient for bouyant vehicles) but it is doable. Other gas giants may also have handy things like methane clouds for carbon sources.

Atmosphere of Jupiter

(Atmosphere of Jupiter)

I'd be inclined to use fusion for as much as possible though, as chemical harvesting may well be less convenient that deuterium and helium-3 refining at higher altitudes. The energy densities of chemical fuel are much lower, and there are probably more useful things you could do with the materials than set them on fire.

Nuclear ramjets will be able to go pretty fast in a hydrogen atmosphere, and so might be useful for medium-haul travel, if you actually have need of such a thing. Nuclear jet engines might simply be a better alternative, because gas giants are big and interesting stuff will either be close (because that's where you build it) or far away (for whatever reason) and so there may be little need for a middle ground between boost-glide and scramjets and turbines. Up to you, though.

And as some responses to KeithS's excellent answer:

  • Inert gas is of course readily available in the form of helium. There may be some mileage in your habitats and vehicles having an outer pressure hull of helium at slightly above both internal and external pressure. This makes it easier to keep your hard-to-replace atmospheric gasses like oxygen and nitrogen (and even carbon dioxide!) inside, because they can't simply leak into a higher-pressure buffer. In an emergency, helium can be dumped if it starts leaking into habitable areas, equalising pressures whilst leaks and scrubbers are fixed. It is easy enough to replace.
  • Building and maintaining a network of JPS satellites is an excellent idea, but for safety reasons you might consider having atmospheric positioning systems too, because if TSHTF it could be very, very difficult to fly up into orbit to replace or repair infrastructure. It might even be easier to do some of this stuff on Jupiter because lines of sight at so very long... there's a reduced need for clever over-the-horizon low-frequency things like LORAN when it may well be possible to use VHF-based marker beacons, driven by fusion reactors for high power, with vast ranges. After all, gas giants are likely to be sparsely populated, and whilst mobile beacons don't help with global navigation, most navigation is likely to be local anyway and a suborbital hop can point in the approximate direction of another habitat's marker beacon cloud and targeting can be refined as a fix is acquired.

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