Earth is overpopulated and needs somewhere to create a settlement. If they decided to settle on Saturn's asteroid ring and If the people who are making the settlement have the technology we currently have now and had a trillion dollar budget to build a settlement, could it actually work properly and will it be self-sustained? It is a city kind of settlement so no mining would be done for earth's economical purposes but only to help the settlement build so it can't buy. It has to be self-sustaining so it can't buy or bring anything else from earth. Pretty much no contact to earth after the settlement would be built.

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    $\begingroup$ Your question answers itself. If you bring "all the required materials" to a certain place then you can build precisely the kind of installation which will fit your needs and requirements to perfection. What you fail to do is give us any requirements, or a background for your story. In other words, yes, it's totally possible to build a self sustaining settlement anywhere, even in the heart of the Sun, as long as you bring "everything you need" with you. Since you're not telling us what tech is available, what the economic implications might be, we can't answer. $\endgroup$
    – AndreiROM
    Commented Jul 6, 2016 at 13:18
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    $\begingroup$ If you have a trillion dollars to spend, you will get an awful lot more settlement for your money if you build it somewhere on the Earth that's currently uninhabitable -- deserts, Antarctica, oceans, etc. The same goes for any kind of space-based settlement. It doesn't matter how crowded Earth is, it will always be cheaper and easier to make more living space on Earth than in space. $\endgroup$
    – Mike Scott
    Commented Jul 6, 2016 at 13:44
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    $\begingroup$ And even if you go to space, Mars makes a better settlement and the Moon is much cheaper to get to. The problem with the rings is that they're not a solid object, they're a cloud of micrometeorites. Very dangerous to hulls and habitats. I can just about imagine someone building a space hotel "near" the rings for aesthetics, but not within the rings. Even the moons of Saturn and Jupiter would be easier. $\endgroup$
    – pjc50
    Commented Jul 6, 2016 at 13:52
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    $\begingroup$ We can barely manage to build closed ecological systems (self-contained biospheres that can function without contact with the Earthen environment for significant time) on Earth with current technology, given easy access to all of the resources of Earth! I can't imagine how building something in -- not "on", the pieces too small for that -- what (as already pointed out) basically amounts to a cloud of bits of ice and rock would be significantly easier. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Jul 6, 2016 at 15:29
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    $\begingroup$ I just don't see any reason the rings of Saturn would be selected over the moon, Mars, Ceres, the atmosphere of Venus, or even Earth orbit. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 6, 2016 at 16:31

9 Answers 9


With today's technology the answer is most likely No".

There's two important factors at play here:


Going into space is a very specialized niche which very few companies deal with. There's not a lot of manufacturers for the sort of tech you're going to need to build a large habitat. It's debatable if we even posses the technology to build a large-ish habitat (we already have the ISS, but that is not adequate for long term habitation, and is protected by Earth's magnetosphere, which won't apply out in the depths of the solar system).

But even if we did have the theoretical knowledge to build such a construct, we lack the industry, and skilled labor to do so.

Politics and Economy

The second major aspect of this undertaking is politics and economy.

A trillion dollars sounds like a lot of money, but when it comes to setting up several new industries, and developing extremely advanced and expensive materials en masse, it just isn't enough. Furthermore, some of those materials can't be found in the quantities you're going to need - other industries need them, and they're eventually going to block you from buying out all the available stocks.

Even trickier are the politics of it all. If the Earth is already over-populated, and taking the current geo-political, and global economy into consideration, you are most likely looking at a planet in turmoil. There's already many conflicts being fought, and we're looking at a possible world war within our lifetimes. When you announce a major undertaking to leave the planet you may spark accusations of trying to build weapons in space, racism based on your colonist selection process, etc. etc. etc.

More than likely one govenrment or another would simply shut you down because they wouldn't want a massive space station to be in anyone else's control other than themselves.


However, assuming that the situation on Earth is very similar to what it is today, you wouldn't have to go to Saturn. Mars has a big "For Rent" sign on its front lawn, as it were, and no one has made it over there yet.

And while it's debatable whether we have the tech to allow colonists to survive the decade long journey to Saturn, we're pretty sure that we could get someone to Mars in one relatively healthy piece.

Add to that that other companies are already designing missions to Mars, and so some industry is already geared in that direction, and you may just have a working concept.

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    $\begingroup$ We have the technology. What we don't have is a purpose or the money. And for going into space, the best bet is to go to the asteroids, not another planet that costs much $ to get off of. $\endgroup$
    – Chris K
    Commented Jul 6, 2016 at 16:56
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    $\begingroup$ -1 The entire Apollo program (adjusted for inflation) cost 100 billion dollars. That's going from literally no space program to the moon. OP is saying that he has a TRILLION to spend. A budget 10 times as large. Yeah, it is enough to build industries from scratch. You have 10 times the budget as the last time you built those industries from scratch. Except this time, you aren't starting from nothing. A ton of the R&D has already been done for you. As Heinlein said "If you can get your ship into orbit, you're halfway to anywhere in the solar system" $\endgroup$
    – Shane
    Commented Jul 6, 2016 at 18:44
  • $\begingroup$ @Shane - well, first of all, I'd like to see what 100 billion is adjusted for inflation. Second, once people know you have money and are purchasing specialized equipment they're going to start charging you through the nose for it. Quite simply, there's not that many suppliers for this high quality stuff, and only so many customers. They can charge whatever they want, and prices will go up fast once they realize how ambitious and rich you are. On top of that, think of the sheer magnitude of the project compared to the Apollo missions. $\endgroup$
    – AndreiROM
    Commented Jul 6, 2016 at 18:48
  • $\begingroup$ @Shane - that was also only a minor aspect of my overall answer, and hardly worth a downvote, but have it your way. $\endgroup$
    – AndreiROM
    Commented Jul 6, 2016 at 18:48
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    $\begingroup$ @Shane - Ok, I missed your "adjusted for inflation" note. Other than that is there any particular reason for the sarcasm and tone? $\endgroup$
    – AndreiROM
    Commented Jul 6, 2016 at 19:00

On the more practical side of 'if it is possible?'...politics and sustainability aside.

The ring is not a solid structure and there would be no atmosphere on any of the ring debris that makes up the ring, ranging from dust particles up to fractured small moons. As far as I recall, if you were to compress the entire ring system you would only have an atmosphere a micron thick?! So pretty much you will be building a giant spaceship-city like stargate atlantis. No walking on the ring itself...unless you hopping from debris to debris in a spacesuit.

You would have to provide some sort of CONSTANT shielding/protection from the ring debris, from the larger city killers down to the tiny specks of dust. Look what happened to the ISS window when it hit a ?paintfleck? (or more accurately, the paintfleck hit the ISS)!

You would be safer on the smaller shepherd moons (but even these will have debris raining down on them occasionally) or better yet one of the larger moons. If you really insistent on being 'in' the rings, you could try for a settlement on the leeward side of the shepherd moons away from any bombardment. Then you get a view of the rings side-on.

Edit: that last suggestion about the leeward side of the shepherd moons would only work if your moon was tidally locked to Saturn. If it isn't tidally locked you could end up building your settlement in a sheltered area only for the moon to rotate your settlement into the 'highway to hell!'.

  • $\begingroup$ This is the right answer. There isn't enough 'ring' in the rings to support a colony. There's simply nowhere decent to plop the colony down on. The biggest problem will be the gravity. The elements of the ring don't have enough mass to have gravity. That means you have to create a spinning ring, or other artificial gravity source. At that point, you more or less have a self contained spaceship. What's the point of landing? $\endgroup$
    – Shane
    Commented Jul 6, 2016 at 18:47
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    $\begingroup$ @Shane Every mass exerts a gravitational influence. It may be small, but it will be non-zero. Newton's famous apple does exert a gravitational influence on the planet Earth that is equal to that of the Earth on the apple -- though, of course, since the Earth is so enormously more massive than the apple, the effect of the Earth's gravity on the apple is far greater than the effect of the apple's gravity on Earth. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Jul 7, 2016 at 13:00
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling When the next sentence is talking about spinning rings for artificial gravity, most reasonable people realize that we have a character limit and they can figure out the context. Since you couldn't, Let me rephrase. he elements of the ring don't have enough mass to have gravity suitable for a colony of humans. Having to have spelled that out for you.... le sigh $\endgroup$
    – Shane
    Commented Jul 7, 2016 at 19:29

There is one very clear factor which speaks in favour of building in Saturn's rings; all the materials are already processed in bite sized pieces and it does not take a very great deal of energy to get around.

Going from planet to planet, or even from moon to moon in Saturn's system requires using a fair amount of energy to change orbits between the various starting and stopping points. In interplanetary space this can be measured in kilometres per second, in the rings, since everything is quite close and in similar orbits, you might only need to metres per second deltaV to move around.

enter image description here

So the ices and dust needed to feed your civilization are there for the taking with little more than a net and a very low powered rocket (or a tether if you like to save on reaction mass).

For the more advanced civilizations, the rings make a great place to set up a massive tether to reach down into the atmosphere of Saturn and draw 3He up as nuclear fusion fuel. Since the amount of sunlight is very feeble in Saturn's orbit, a solar powered civilization would have to build platoons of mirrors in orbits free of the rings and beam sunlight or microwave energy to the rings, since collisions between ring debris and fragile mirrors would be catastrophic. (The colonies will be well armoured anyway in order to withstand the intense radiation environment).

There will be a distinct lack of metals and many of the elements needed for advanced civilization, but the availability of cheap ice and volatiles would give Saturnian ring dwellers an advantage when trading with other space "nations".


Sure - why not? Here is some information about the rings from NASA:

The ring particle sizes range from tiny, dust-sized icy grains to a few particles as large as mountains. Two tiny moons orbit in gaps (Encke and Keeler gaps) in the rings and keep the gaps open. Other particles (10s to 100s of meters) are too tiny to see, but create propeller-shaped objects in the rings that let us know they are there. The rings are believed to be pieces of comets, asteroids or shattered moons that broke up before they reached the planet. Each ring orbits at a different speed around the planet.

The main rings are, working outward from the planet, known as C, B and A. The Cassini Division is the largest gap in the rings and separates Rings B and A. In addition a number of fainter rings have been discovered more recently. The D Ring is exceedingly faint and closest to the planet. The F Ring is a narrow feature just outside the A Ring. Beyond that are two far fainter rings named G and E. The rings show a tremendous amount of structure on all scales; some of this structure is related to gravitational perturbations by Saturn's many moons, but much of it remains unexplained.


The fun the about science fiction is you have some measure of freedom to invent new technologies or scientific discoveries. They can mine the ice and other chemicals, establish a base on the larger rocks, or have a station orbiting in the Encke and Keppler gaps (maybe there are two groups and they are so named?)

  • $\begingroup$ Oh no I edited the question while you were writing the answer $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 6, 2016 at 13:21
  • $\begingroup$ But it shouldn't matter too much $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 6, 2016 at 13:21

a trillion dollar budget to build a settlement

Well this alone would be your shortfall.

$100 billion for six astronauts?

A manned Mars mission would be incredibly expensive. NASA estimates peg the overall expenditures at about $100 billion over 30 or 40 years, Sherwood said, but those numbers may be too low.

The International Space Station (ISS), after all, was initially anticipated to cost $10 billion over 10 years. But it ended up costing 10 times that, and took nearly three decades to assemble. http://www.space.com/16918-nasa-mars-human-spaceflight-goals.html

An estimated trip to mars is estimated to cost 100 billion dollars. However, the ISS was estimated at 10 billion and cost ten times that. So if this project followed suit you would have 100 billion x 10 = $1 Trillion.

...Well, looks like you're out of money and your 6 people (a few shy of a city) are 2 planets short and have no money to build a sustainable environment.

  • $\begingroup$ That price includes all the supporting infrastructure. Buying and shipping 40 years worth of food. Paying the 100s or 1000s of people working on the groundside for 40 years. OP is talking about single or few launches. The entire apollo program cost $20b ($100b in today's money) $\endgroup$
    – Shane
    Commented Jul 6, 2016 at 20:37
  • $\begingroup$ And have no money to ... Spending money on Mars? Currency? LOL $\endgroup$
    – Roland
    Commented Jul 7, 2016 at 13:59

I would have to say no, mostly due to the fact that with today's technology, we wouldn't be able to get anyone out there to live on it let alone build a habitat. Also, I don't think a sustainable settlement of any real significant size would be able to sustain itself out there without food supplies from earth, assuming they could terraform an asteroid to grow things I still don't think it would be enough. On top of that I don't think that whatever small settlement they could make out there would have a very big impact at all on the Earth's overpopulation problem.


With enough money, many MANY things can be made possible while still being completely impractical.


You provided a budget of \$1 Trillion US. According to this stack exchange answer, the cost per KG to launch something into geo-synchronous orbit is approximately $56,000 with an Atlas V rocket. That means that, within your budget, you could put about 1.5 billion KG (or 153,467 tons) of free material into geostationary orbit if you blew it all on launches. That is just getting all of your materials/modules/fuel/food/oxygen/water into a place where it could be assembled together before then heading out towards the outer planets. It doesn't account for their individual costs.

I don't have a calculation handy for figuring out how much fuel you'd need, but it would be significant (especially if you plan on landing your craft instead of crashing it into a planetary body at tens of thousands of miles per hour. Oh, and you are also going to have to carry some type of fuel to support life-support operations on your ship unless you are just planning on transporting corpses. Fuel costs need to be subtracted from your available budget.

Maybe your ship consists of habitat modules that can be disassembled when you get to your destination and used as permanent living space for the settlers. For that to be the case, they would have to be durable enough to survive the journey, land, be disassembled, and have a reasonable expectation of lasting long enough under daily living conditions to support your goal. This probably means that they are both HEAVY and EXPENSIVE, so subtract that from your budget.

You are also go to have to purchase all of the supplies/food/oxygen/water/recreational equipment/exercise equipment/medical supplies (anyone priced an MRI machine lately?)/medicine/tools/manufacturing equipment (because you can't just run down to the parts store)/redundancies/computer equipment/educational tools/nuclear fuel for a permanent power source/etc. so subtract all those from your budget.

If, after purchasing all of your supplies you still have enough left to fly it into space and take some people along, then your journey has become economically possible.


Assuming that, after all the math is done, we still have enough carrying capacity to put a few hundred people (still not "city-sized") on the ship to go along with the cargo, there are several logistical challenges to consider.

First, we know how to put things in space, how to fly something to Saturn's neck of the solar system, how to land "Earth things" on "space things," and so on. What we haven't done is do all those things at once. Yep, we've put people on the moon, and we've put landers on other planets, and we've done long space journeys with unmanned craft, and we're starting to understand the impact of long-term space flight on human health. Now suddenly all of those things need to be put together for an extremely complex operation involving lots of people for an extremely long mission with no hope of rescue if something goes wrong. Since we've never done it all at the same time, we don't know exactly what challenges we'll face.

Take for example the variety of passengers. Astronauts are carefully vetted and extensively trained. It might not be practical to do that with all of your residents, so, while best efforts might be made, you are taking risks just by putting your crew and passengers on the ship. What if there are high instances of severe depression due to leaving an entire planet behind forever? What if people reproduce onboard? What if someone commits a criminal act? What about terrorism? What if we find that space causes strange health issues in people that have a rare genetic defect? What if the module holding the vitamins takes a meteor to the hull and everyone gets scurvy? All of these contingencies have to be planned for with procedures in place to handle them. Forget just one critical thing that pops up (like a flu-bug that mutates into something really nasty due to interaction with cosmic radiation), and everyone is dead.

Then there is the question of sheer time and distance. It took Voyager 2 about 4 years to reach Saturn. Assuming we could travel at that speed, there are a lot of things that could go really wrong in that amount of time while out in space. It becomes a logistical problem because who wants to spend a trillion dollars on a mission, throw their hands up in the air, and hope it succeeds? Plans need to be in place for rescue, repair, and resupply missions in the event that a problem occurs. The further away and the longer it takes to get there, the more complicated and expensive (or impossible) these missions become.


According to NASA:

Saturn, the "Ringed Planet," is so far away from the Sun that it receives only about 1/80th the amount of sunlight that we receive here on Earth.

So, there is your figure for growing crops or producing solar power. You are probably going to have to bring nuclear power sources to run lights, grow food, create heat, power factories, and process waste back into usable compounds. Nuclear power, while lasting a long time, is still going to need expensive replenishment and maintenance. If enough fuel isn't brought along, can it be readily obtained from the environment? Will it weigh too much to take the quantities needed? Uranium and Plutonium are pretty DENSE stuff if I remember right.

How about basic things needed to maintain the habitat and systems? To be completely self-sufficient, all of those will need to be manufactured onsite. Otherwise you will need to plan supply missions with necessary components, and those missions will take 4 years to get there. Forget to bring along a spare "main air scrubbing unit?" Hope you can hold your breath a long, long time.


While (perhaps) technically possible, it wouldn't be at all feasible simply due to the extreme distance and the availability of far, far better choices. The moon is a few days away and plenty big enough for small settlements. You could have access to solar power 24/7, and the chances of something bad happening on the way are minuscule in comparison. If something bad did happen, Earth is right around the corner to lend a hand.

If the moon wasn't available (maybe due to international politics), then Mars (or maybe one if its moons) would be a far better choice. Or maybe Venus would be better? The abundance of heat energy and an atmosphere from which to extract some raw material has to be advantageous.

  • $\begingroup$ According to spaceX, it costs $8000 per KG to go to Mars. spacex.com/about/capabilities $\endgroup$
    – Shane
    Commented Jul 6, 2016 at 20:44
  • $\begingroup$ @Shane That's rather unspecific, since it doesn't specify which Mars. (No joke! Payload to orbit is likely very different from payload to surface, even more so since on Mars you don't get much benefit of aerobraking but still have to take aerodynamics into account for a lander and want to avoid significant lithobraking. Worst of both worlds.) Compare What is the marginal cost of landing on the Moon? which ultimately concluded that Astrobotic (which aims for the Moon) can deliver 1 kg to lunar orbit for \$198k or 1 kg to lunar surface for \$1.2M. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Jul 7, 2016 at 13:15
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling I just looked over the data. Maybe those figure are out of date and there's a new pdf, because they quote 1.2M$ per kg for both lunar orbit and landing. Ignoring that, even if it was 200K. per kg to lunar orbit and SpaceX's price to Martian orbit is 8k. per kg. Martian orbit is harder and SpaceX does it FAR cheaper than astrobotic does. They also include ground support services for you mission. Astrobotic is charging for data comms between earth and luna. They are charging you for the power your payload uses. Etc. Long story short, Those prices are vastly over inflated. $\endgroup$
    – Shane
    Commented Jul 7, 2016 at 19:47

I'd generally tend towards a natural disaster or world war instead of overpopulation as the reasoning for off-world settlements - for a few reasons.

I agree with the sentiment expressed in earlier comments that given essentially unlimited resources, it's always going to be more economically feasible to build on earth than offworld. Unless earth is suffering from some global disaster.

Additionally, there's significant evidence to suggest that there's no such thing as global over-population. As currently accessible resources get used up and therefore get more expensive, there is a greater economic incentive to find new deposits of the same resources or find alternative methods of achieving the same goal.

For example, it took rising petroleum prices in the tried-and-true middle eastern markets for comparatively expensive oil shale and oil sand extraction in Canada to become economically viable, and for comparatively expensive hybrid and electric car development to become viable.

The same logic applies to livable space.

One option - a trope similar to the one used in Sunshine or Interstellar, where the world is slowly dying, and it makes economic sense to fly as many people and resources offworld as possible. And if Saturn's rings are still a bridge too far (considering places like Mars or Europa might be more livable sooner, you could say that those places are dying too.)

Another option - human civilization is vast and wealthy, and lots of people are eager to be frontiersman on the edge of civilization and deal all the inherent challenges.

  • $\begingroup$ That's an.... interesting interpretation of events. Our oil reserves are in such dire straights that mining tar sands (places where you barely get more energy than it takes to get the stuff) makes economic sense. Therefore we'll never run out! $\endgroup$
    – Shane
    Commented Jul 6, 2016 at 20:39
  • $\begingroup$ Interpretation isn't the right word - and I'm not suggesting that a particular physical resource can somehow be in infinite abundance (at least for practical intents and purposes). I'm saying simply that necessity is the mother of invention. As as a particular resource gets scarce we are incentivized to find novel alternatives. (made multiple edits because hitting enter apparently submits the comment instead of creating a line break - whoops) $\endgroup$
    – SFlagg
    Commented Jul 7, 2016 at 14:23
  • $\begingroup$ You take the fact that "as a particular resource gets scarce we are incentivized to find novel alternatives" and interpret it to mean that there is " significant evidence to suggest that there's no such thing as global over-population" The second statement is not supported by the first. Probability is not determined by desirability. Necessity is the mother of invention. Practicality is its father :) $\endgroup$
    – Shane
    Commented Jul 7, 2016 at 20:41
  • $\begingroup$ Apologies - I didn't mean to imply that the 2nd statement was supported by the 1st. This isn't just my opinion (and it wasn't my opinion until very recently) - there is great amount of research and scholarship that has gone into debunking overpopulation. I can point to some authors if necessary; also the Population Research Institute has some information available on their site. Of note: for over 200 years dozens of thinkers have predicted starvation on a global scale during their lifetimes and none of those predictions have come to pass. $\endgroup$
    – SFlagg
    Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 20:12
  • $\begingroup$ For an interesting related anecdote - look up the Simon / Ehrlich Wager. $\endgroup$
    – SFlagg
    Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 20:13

I'm gonna say no, due to Kessler Syndrome. The relevant part of the syndrome states that once you have a sufficient number of debris you will be hit. Given that Saturn's ring is a massive amount of debris, staying there for a long time will guarantee your eventual obliteration. At which point we will have more debris than before, which is the famous part of Kessler syndrome.


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