Artificial Gravity May Offer A Myriad of Benefits to Humans in Space According to Researchers at University of California Irvine and 100 Year Starship®
HUNTSVILLE – December 15, 2022 – Future space habitats may offer hybrid, variable gravity environments to accommodate both human and commercial needs. Researchers have assembled what may be the first exhaustive literature review of artificial gravity opportunities, challenges, and potential impact on humans in space, sponsored by Orbital Assembly.
The study was conducted by 100 Year Starship®, founded and led by former astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison, and University of California, Irvine Prof. Ronke Olabisi, Ph.D. The team collaborated on the study entitled “Challenges and Benefits to Human Operations in Variable & Partial Gravity Earth Orbiting Habitats.” Click here to listen to a podcast on the new study and for a link to the research paper.
“This review provides further justification of the need for hybrid gravity space station design that will offer variable levels of gravity in the very near future,” says Rhonda Stevenson, Chief Executive Officer of Orbital Assembly. “Working with former astronaut, physician and engineer, Dr. Mae Jemison and biomedical engineering Prof. Ronke Olabisi, helps us lead the industry forward to help ensure long term sustained human habitation in space. We’re providing a more comfortable space environment with a much larger footprint for manufacturing, pharmaceutical, and material science companies by producing viable products in microgravity.”
Microgravity causes a number of health and performance issues for humans including space adaption syndrome, circulatory and cardiovascular issues, muscle atrophy, bone resorption and visual changes, all of which are driving greater interest in artificial gravity as a potential solution in addition to or in place of current countermeasures.
The researchers report that although artificial gravity would likely prove to be an effective multisystem preventative against the deleterious impact of microgravity, countermeasures such as exercise, pharmaceuticals, and nutrition have been perceived to be much more cost effective and easier to implement.
“While there have been periodic plans over the past century to study and implement artificial gravity in space stations, until now, it hasn’t been a priority,” says Dr. Jemison. “But as physiologists have continued to document the myriad impacts of microgravity on humans, artificial gravity habitats will likely be important for long term space stays and shorter, more enjoyable experiences.”
Rotational artificial gravity structures are being proposed as single countermeasure solutions to long duration and interplanetary space travel. Such capabilities may facilitate better accommodations for everyone—from professional crew to researchers to tourists—to protect health, facilitate operations, and optimize time on orbit.
“Artificial variable gravity in orbiting facilities could provide a range of manufacturing, research, and service opportunities that could benefit life on Earth,” says Prof. Olabisi. “The capabilities of variable gravity facilities in space can be invaluable to an impressive range of medical, physiological, and life sciences. Manufacturing products in which control of the deposition or separation processes may gain more precision by varying gravity—for example building nanomaterials or separating large molecules.”
The researchers note that, “The reality is that there is little direct human evidence that artificial gravity will protect human health, but animal studies combined with ground-based studies provide important clues. Regardless of the gaps in knowledge concerning the benefit of artificial gravity as a countermeasure, there are intuitively obvious benefits to artificial gravity, including establishing a well-defined vertical and horizontal reference frame. If artificial gravity does prove to be an effective countermeasure, crew compliance with lengthy and tedious 0-G exercise protocols would become unnecessary.”
Artificial gravity systems could be used as countermeasures for weightlessness in multiple ways. The artificial gravity system could be deployed throughout the crew’s entire stay in space (on orbit) or administered therapeutically at discrete advantageous intervals during the mission in low Earth orbit, on the lunar surface, during interplanetary travel, or on other planets.
Floating particulates, trash, and other items would eventually settle to a floor or wall rather than floating about the habitat area. This settling of dust, dander, etc., reduces the potential risk of inhaling microbial, allergenic, or toxic particles. In addition, rather than the million-dollar toilets with high service schedules, conventional, reliable toilets could be employed. Moreover, eating could proceed more normally, as well as sleeping, bathing, and grooming practices. Lastly, complex medical procedures, such as surgery could be performed more easily and with less risk: e.g., in microgravity blood does not fall away but domes at the incision site, obscuring the field; bubbles from IVs do not float up but remain within solution; suspended particulates do not settle but would drift into the surgical field.
Artificial gravity through rotation was first proposed in 1883, by the Russian rocket scientist Konstantin E. Tsiolkovsky. Decades before space flight was a reality, designs for artificial gravity systems using rotational structures were proffered as many experts believed that humans would not be able to survive in the weightlessness of space. Planned space stations offering hybrid artificial gravity were first announced by Orbital Assembly, for a station that will accommodate two dozen occupants in a modular format that spins to create gravity — a design very similar to how it was first proposed nearly 150 years ago.
The researchers call for more studies on artificial gravity in a space environment since virtually all the human research on artificial gravity has been conducted on Earth to date.
Orbital Assembly initiated and provided an unrestricted gift to support the study as part of their dedication to scientific rigor and technological applicability.
About Orbital Assembly
Orbital Assembly (OA) is a recognized leader in designing, constructing, and operating large-scale, sustained, habitable structures with gravity on-orbit, in cislunar space, and throughout the solar system. OA’s Pioneer-class stations, the first of which is scheduled to be operational in as little as several years, will be the first on-orbit business park with variable artificial gravity (up to ~0.5g) to support the greater health of its occupants, as well as enable novel research and manufacturing processes not possible in a microgravity facility or on Earth. OA plans to lease space on Pioneer-class stations to a mix of private, academic, commercial, research and industrial customers, and offer them a wide range of on-orbit capabilities including manufacturing parts on demand from aluminum, steel, plastics, and possibly other materials. The company will also provide opportunities for space tourism. For more information about Orbital Assembly, please visit www.orbitalassembly.com.