November 02, 2016

TedX talk making the case for orbital space colonization and speaker made the most detailed space colony simulator ever

Where will the best real estate outside of Earth be? In this fascinating talk, The building of the most accurate space colony simulator examines the evidence that "we can do better than Mars."

Joe Strout’s programming career began at a young age, writing articles for "Nibble" magazine in high school. Joe obtained a bachelors in psychology from the University of Miami and a masters in neuroscience from the University of California, San Diego, but couldn't resist the call of code and became a full-time software developer after graduate school. He now runs a consulting business, crafting unique software solutions to a wide range of problems. Joe and his two sons have been working on High Frontier for almost a year, and ran a successful Kickstarter campaign in November 2015.

High Frontier lets you design, build, and manage space settlements in a realistic simulation game. Create an empire to span the solar system.

High Frontier is a game, but it’s a game based on real-world science. Our custom physics simulation engine includes realistic effects like:

  • Dynamic [In]stability: Big spinning things don’t always stay spinning the way you intended. When your colony tumbles end over end, your residents will have a bad day.
  • Radiation: There’s a lot of it in space. Provide sufficient shielding, or your residents will have a bad day.
  • Thermodynamics: Stuff in space can get too cold. Or too hot. (Either one will cause your residents to have a bad day.)






Novel Scientific Results

In addition to being a great game, High Frontier is the most detailed and accurate space colony simulator ever made. It’s so detailed, in fact, that work on it has already led to a couple of novel results.

Stability Benefit of Inverted Endcaps

A cylinder tends to tumble end-over-end if it’s made too long. Previous studies on space colonies (like the Kalpana One paper that was co-authored by High Frontier’s lead developer) didn’t study the idea of cylinder endcaps that bulge inward, like the bottom of a soda can. So we tried it out in High Frontier, and found that such inverted endcaps are better.

We don’t mean just a little better; they’re a lot better. So much so, that when real space settlements get built someday, we can pretty much guarantee you’ll see inverted endcaps.

Advantages of Low-Earth Orbit

The classic space settlement studies always assumed they would be built in freespace, such as the L4 and L5 orbits. (If you don’t know what those are, you should play High Frontier more!)

But in researching the radiation environment of various orbits, we found that the environment in low-Earth orbit (LEO) is much, much more benign than higher orbits. Incidentally, we also found that those classic studies underestimated the amount of shielding needed by a factor of two.

It turns out that for this reason, among others, LEO is a great place to build early space habitats. This insight was so novel and interesting that it led to another paper:

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