Researchers Propose Permanent Human Habitat Orbiting Dwarf Planet Ceres

A group of Finnish scientists, is proposing to establish a permanent human settlement orbiting Ceres, a giant asteroid and dwarf planet in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

According to the research team, this 'megasatellite settlement' could be developed by collecting necessary materials from Ceres itself.

If this sounds familiar to fans of the popular science-fiction book and TV series "The Expanse" it's because in that fictional universe, Ceres Station plays an important role as one of humanity's first human off-world colonies plays a role.  

In the series, however, the space rock itself was dispersed with artificial gravity to create a manned habitat on its surface.

In a paper uploaded this week to the arXiv, the team believes Ceres will be prime real estate because it contains nitrogen, which may have enabled an Earth-like atmosphere to develop.

In fact, paper argues that the environment may even be "better than Earth's", as no adverse weather or natural disasters exist, and there is plenty of living space.

They propose several smaller spinning satellites linked to each other via magnetic tethers to form a massive disk-shaped megasatellite. By rotating the massive structure around Ceres, an artificial gravity roughly equal to Earth's could be achieved.  

Such a habitat would only need to make a complete orbit around the dwarf planet in 66 seconds to maintain artificial gravity.

Connecting each habitat will be a maglev train-like vehicle, which will create a weightless experience for passengers.

"When first encountered, weightlessness causes nausea and vomiting for some people," the paper says. "However, in a settlement where people experience occasional weightlessness from childhood, it is plausible to think that they can tolerate it well during short trips."

The agreement could also serve as a stepping stone for other reaches of the solar system.

The abstract reads, "The motivation is to find a compromise with artificial gravity that allows development beyond Earth's habitable zone, while also providing easy intra-settlement travel for residents and a reasonably low population density of 500/km2." It's about the population density of New Jersey.

Thanks to its low gravity and rapid rotation, the researchers argue that a "space elevator is possible," allowing easy transport of material from Ceres to other settlements without the need for much fuel.

So what about the threat of space radiation and meteorite impacts? The team has considered those threats as well. They propose a set of massive cylindrical mirrors that could serve a dual function by collecting sunlight and passing it on to the habitat, while also blocking submeter scale meteorites.