NASA Space Settlement

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Stanford Torus Cutaway view

NASA regularly hosts design challenge competitions. The NASA Space Settlement Contest is an example of how NASA is encouraging kids to use the Engineering Design Process.

For this competition, submissions must relate to orbital settlements. Settlements may not be on a planet or moon. Settlements must be permanent, relatively self-sufficient homes, not temporary work camps. Designs, original research, essays, stories, models, artwork or any other orbital space settlement related materials may be submitted.

  • Orbital settlement - a moving experience

The challenge is to build gigantic spaceships, big enough to live in. These free-space settlements could be wonderful places to live; about the size of a California beach town and endowed with weightless recreation, fantastic views, freedom, elbow-room in spades, and great wealth. In time, we may see millions of free-space settlements in our solar system. The Space Settlement overview. provides information for the Engineering Design Process.

  • Ask (What? Ask questions, understand the need, identify the problem)
    The basics - Who? Pioneers at first, billions of ordinary people later. What? Gigantic rotating, pressurized spacecraft the size of towns or even cities. Where? In orbit; near Earth at first. How? Solar energy, lunar and asteroidal materials, and lots of hard work. Why? To grow. When? Good question, when do you start working on it? How much will it cost? A lot ... unless


  • Imagine (So what? Imagine, brainstorm, explore)
    As the contest has been run for many years, there are lots of previous winning submissions to explore.
    Q: What were some of the good ideas from previous submissions? How can these be improved? Did these teams miss some good opportunities?


  • Plan (Now what? Plan, design)
    The table of contents for the previous submissions suggest topics to include in a winning design proposal.
    Q: How much detail is included in the designs? Where did the information come from to provide this level of detail?


  • Create (Do it. Create, try it out)
    For the competition, the deliverable is the space settlement design. Most are text and drawings.
    Q: What parts of the submission are particularly engaging? Why are these important?


  • Improve (If this then what? Improve, make it better)
    The next winners will have to provide something even more impressive and innovative than the previous winners.
    Q: What would improve these presentations? How could the Space Settlement designs be improved?


Engineering vocabulary, concepts

  • permanent, self-sufficient, air tight, breathable atmosphere, psuedo-gravity, radiation, biosphere, recycle, oxygen, water, wastes


Show and Tell
Now it is your turn. Here are some challenges for you to work on...

  • review the examples of submissions from previous winners and identify some areas where you would make improvements. Note the information in these previous submissions that would help you work through the [/Engineering%20Design%20Process Engineering Design Process] for your improved version.
  • create a model of a space settlement, either from one of the designs provided or from your own design.


Learn more...