Imagine we build a space station much larger than the ISS with more or less today's technology. (For example in a scenario in which price of transport to orbit per kg is significantly reduced by technological progress.) The design of the station might look approximately like the Space Station V from the Kubrick/Clarke's 2001: Space Oddysey, but the dimensions may be different.

My question is: if the station should serve as modest and more or less permanent settlement for N people, how big does it need to be and (maybe even more importantly) how heavy does it need to be?

Assume we are really trying to use light materials for construction, because mass is very limiting factor in space. The station does not need to be self-sustainable, food would be transported from Earth.

Space Station V from 2001: Space Oddysey movie

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    $\begingroup$ @Liath Still gotta transport materials and personnel up there, no? Also, related, as it may give you a sense of scale if you want artificial gravity (via spinning). $\endgroup$
    – Crabgor
    Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 14:13
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    $\begingroup$ Are you interested in a self sustaining station, or one which is being supplied continuously from the ground? Bisophere 2 showed that the cost of maintaining the biomass to feed a person is non-trivial. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 14:38
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    $\begingroup$ @Liath Mass is very important, mainly because of the construction costs. $\endgroup$
    – Irigi
    Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 14:41
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    $\begingroup$ ISS has a mass of about 450.000kg for a 6 person crew. $\endgroup$
    – mouviciel
    Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 15:07
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    $\begingroup$ Keep in mind that materials used are going to have a considerable affect on radiation shielding. I don't know what current shielding is like, but here's an article from 2002 that outlines a problem with aluminum hulls : newscientist.com/article/… $\endgroup$
    – Random
    Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 17:16

1 Answer 1


About 10 metric tons or less per person (1 ton = 1000kg=2200 pounds)

Several Controlled ecological life support systems have been tested on earth. NASA's BioHome system had air purification and waste treatment but no food production, so it sounds close to your specs. It served one person and was about the size of a mobile home. I've seen mobile homes being quoted at 13 metric tons, but if we make allowances for gains in efficency for larger facilities and use lightweight materials, ten metric tons seems an upper boundary.

For comparision, the ISS weighs 420 metric tons and can see 10 people simultaneously at times, equalling 42 metric tons per person. You can imagine they could stock a lot more people in there if they ditched the science equipment for more air and waste purifiers. Also, the kind of space station you envision wouldn't be in low earth orbit, and so not need to boost its height regularly. There's equipment saved on that too.


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