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May 6, 2023
Airbus presents its own plans for a revolutionary space station with artificial gravity.
It's only a concept for the moment, but Airbus' Multi-Purpose Orbital Module (MPOP) promises a lot for space exploration: an autonomous, but modular mini-module, designed to better protect its inhabitants, and above all to keep them in good health.
Occupied by astronauts since November 2000, and fully operational since 2011, the International Space Station is slowly coming to the end of its life. The shutdown of its operation has been repeatedly postponed, but NASA and its partners finally decided to deorbit it in January 2031. Several projects are therefore in development to take over from this mythical station, including an orbital module project recently presented by the European aerospace giant, Airbus.
Image above: View of the Airbus LOOP coupled with the Spartan Space inflatable module and a visitor spacecraft. Image Credits: Airbus Defence and Space GmbH 2023.
The various components of the International Space Station were designed and manufactured for a period of 15 years; they are therefore slowly approaching their theoretical end of life (some of the first modules put into orbit have even exceeded it for a long time). NASA has nevertheless committed to keeping it in service until 2030, before sending it to crash in the Pacific Ocean, near Point Nemo – which serves as a cemetery for many spacecraft.
For years, the ISS has enabled major science experiments (and other entertaining activities). Its programmed disappearance has thus led to the development of various projects to replace it. China is already playing a leading role with its Tiangong space station, whose assembly was completed at the end of 2022. For its part, NASA has concluded several contracts with private companies for the design of commercial space stations. , including Orbital Reef and Starlab. India meanwhile announced in 2019 that it planned to have its own space station “within five to seven years”.
Three distinct levels, including a gravity simulator
It is now Airbus that announces the development of a versatile orbital module, called Airbus LOOP, designed to adapt to future space stations. The Airbus LOOP is designed to make long-term stays in space comfortable and enjoyable for its inhabitants, while supporting efficient and sustainable operations at the same time. The module is designed for a crew of four, but can temporarily accommodate up to eight astronauts at a time.
Image above: View of the three levels of the Airbus LOOP orbital module. Image Credit: Airbus Defence and Space GmbH 2023.
With a diameter of about eight meters, for a total volume of nearly 100 m3, the Airbus LOOP is made up of three levels. One of them houses the crew quarters: a common area with large windows, containing various equipment for exercise; another is dedicated to scientific experiments: with smaller portholes, it is equipped with several computer terminals and an airlock allowing the crew to carry out extra-vehicular activities.
Finally, the last level is a centrifuge that can recreate gravity conditions — thus reducing the stress of weightlessness on the human body. The simulated level of gravity was not specified by the manufacturer, but according to calculations by Universe Today, the centrifuge should have an angular speed of 3.86 m/s and perform 9.2 rotations per minute to simulate gravity Martian (which is 3,72 m/s2, or about 38% of that of Earth).
The three levels are connected by a central tunnel almost 2 meters in diameter, within which greenhouses will be installed - intended both for plant experiments and for the supply of vegetables to the crew. The outer shell, 20 centimeters thick, offers maximum protection against any external threat (radiation, impacts).
A versatile and easily adaptable module according to needs
This modular structure has the advantage of being easily adaptable according to customer needs, explains Airbus. They can choose to replace all or part of the three levels with other elements more suited to their objectives (entertainment or medical facilities, luxury housing, a factory in orbit, etc.).
They can also opt for a completely empty level (a "dry module"), a purely mechanical structure free of equipment, to be able to add their own elements. Note that it is also possible to combine several Airbus LOOP modules to have a larger station.
In addition, Airbus claims that its module has been designed in such a way that it can be put into orbit by the next generation of super-heavy launchers (which should be able to launch entire modules). It will thus be operational as soon as it is put into orbit. It is also compatible with all current and future crew and cargo transport vehicles.
Airbus LOOP: https://www.airbus.com/en/airbus-loop
Images (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: Airbus/Orbiter.ch Aerospace/Roland Berga.