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Oct 23, 2013

Advanced Airlocks and Other Rotating Wheel Space Station Parts


Both scientists and science fiction writers have thought about rotating wheel space stations since the beginning of the 20th Century.

Konstantin Tsiolkovsky wrote about using rotation to create an artificial gravity in space in 1903.

Tsiolkovsky with his ear trumpet

Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky (17 September [O.S. 5 September] 1857 – 19 September 1935) was a Russian and Soviet rocket scientist and pioneer of the astronautic theory.

Hermann Noordung's Space Station 1929. (Achs-Körper - axle body, Aufzugschacht - elevator shaft, K: electric cable to an external observatory, Kondensatorrohre - condenser pipes, S: airlock, Treppenschacht - stairwell, Verdampfungsrohr - boiler pipe)

Herman Potočnik (Noordung) introduced a spinning wheel station with a 30 meter diameter in his Problem der Befahrung des Weltraums (The Problem of Space Travel).

Herman Potocnik, a relatively obscure officer in the Austrian Imperial Army who became an engineer and published in 1928 a seminal book

Herman Potočnik (pseudonym Hermann Noordung; December 22, 1892 – August 27, 1929) was an Austro-Hungarian rocket engineer and pioneer of cosmonautics (astronautics) of Slovene ethnicity.

Wernher von Braun with his rotating wheel space station in a 1956 film.

In the 1950s, Wernher von Braun and Willy Ley, writing in Collier's Magazine, updated the idea, in part as a way to stage spacecraft headed for Mars. They envisioned a rotating wheel with a diameter of 76 meters (250 feet).

Notice the similarities between Wernher von Braun, Russian, and Herman Noordung designs (and maybe even some more earlier designs which are maybe not widely known?).


These space stations can be seen in several early films from Russia and America. Here are some samples of them.

Von Braun Space Station 1956

Russian Space Station 1957 (USSR)

Kubrick Space Station 1968

Current ISS Space Station 2011 which does not yet have any rotating wheel (2013)


Since it is usually most preferred to have all windows towards Earth and since direct sun light is not preferred it is most likely that the rotating wheel is kept in such an attitude that its one side is always pointing towards the sun and maybe all windows closed on that side and the other side is directed as much as possible towards Earth. There might be also other schemes to orientate the spinning wheel. Whatever the spinning wheel needs a different orientation schema than the other parts of the station.

Due to this reason it is required that the wheel is not directly connected to any other partt of the station (ISS for an example). This would allow more freedom for the wheel to be oriented and it also prohibits the collision with the other parts of the station. This adds safety to the operation of the station complex.


The connection to other parts of the station system can be done using a small movable airlock or an Advanced Airlock (AA). You could also call it a Space Station Shuttle (SSS). This shuttle or airlock is actually a small space ship which can be controlled using advanced automatic electronics. The main job for this automatic airlock is to shuttle between different parts of the station system. It also serves as a temporary living quarter for the working space men etc. In this concept all station parts can be kept in a safe distance from each other and they can be independently oriented as required.

Advanced Airlock (AA) allows the station parts to be kept separated which adds safety and allows better orientation freedom of different parts.

The Multi-purpose Logistics Module (MPLM) might have some similarities with an AA but it lacks engines and controls to move by it self.

Video: Raffaello MPLM Moved To Payload Canister


Here is an idea about an advanced airlock which uses a laser beam to connect different parts of the station together (see the following picture). Station parts A and C have extensions with doors to an advanced airlock. Stations are connected using a laser beam. The beam will be automatically controlled so that it builds a bridge between the parts. The advanced airlock then uses this beam to guide itself between the doors an automatically dock with them. It is some kind of a free elevator which can go any direction (not just up or down)
An Advanced Airlock or a Space Station Shuttle that uses laser beam to travel between different parts of the space station system. A and C are space station parts and B is the shuttle.

This same laser beam can also be used to control the distance and position between the different parts of the station. One could of course use a wire cable but to allow more freedom and avoid collisions a laser beam is better than a cable. If any of the station parts looses the beam or the distance between gets too long or short an alarm is given.

The Space Station Shuttle (SSS) operation should be robust, fully automatic and fast since it would be used often especially during the building phase of any new station part.

If the distances between any two parts are short one could use some kind of a flexible tube (a rubber convolute or similar). The doors and airlock should anyway be there for security reasons.

For small distances a convolute (B) or similar might replace the shuttle.

A convolute


The currently running Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) and Space X Dragon might have some similarities with the AA design. There are also other modules from Japan and Russia that can dock with ISS.

Video: Automated Transfer Vehicle ATV-4

Video: Space X Dragon docking with ISS


The International Space Station (ISS) has been many years up there but common people do not know very much about it and what is going on there. The following video gives some information and also critics. I find ISS anyway useful and the critics is a bit populistic approach to the problem of space population which is anyway to become.

Video: Story about the International Space Station (ISS)

The following video could give some more info..


/1/ Wikipedia

/2/ YouTube

/3/ NASA, ESA, etc.

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