Stellar stagecoaches, and interstellar possibilities

Brian McConnell, writing for Centauri Dreams:

A spaceship that is mostly water will be more like a cell than a conventional rocket plus capsule architecture. Space agriculture, or even aquaculture, becomes practical when water is abundant. Creature comforts that would be unthinkable in a conventional ship (hot baths anyone?) will be feasible in a spacecoach. Meanwhile, inflatable structures will eventually enable the construction of large, complex habitats that will be more like miniature O’Neill colonies than a conventional spaceship [4].

In [our book about spacecoaches], Alex and I present a reference design that combines inflatable structures and thin film PV arrays to form a kite-like structure that both has a large PV array area, and can be rotated to provide artificial gravity in the outer areas [5]. The ability to generate artificial gravity while providing ample radiation protection solves two of the thorniest problems in long duration spaceflight. Alex wrote an excellent fictional treatment of the concept for Centauri Dreams called Spaceward Ho! This is intended as a straw man design to kickstart design competitions. We envision a series of design competitions for water compatible electric propulsion technologies, large scale solar arrays, and overall ship designs.

McConnell and his colleagues have done a lot of thinking about interplanetary spacecraft, and aren’t afraid to challenge the notion that they should be constructed from the traditional rigid metal hull. Regardless of whether their ideas come to pass, I think these are the conversations we should be having more broadly.