Designing a Space Station

What You Need


Designing a Space Station Photo Credit: Clipart.com


To assess and evaluate a proposed space station design plan based upon the ideas in the central benchmark.


More and more, citizens are called on to decide which technologies to develop, which to use, and how to use them. Part of being prepared for that responsibility is knowing about how technology works, including its alternatives, benefits, risks, and limitations. (Benchmarks for Science LIteracy, p. 53.) 

In this lesson, students will evaluate an existing space settlement design based upon the ideas in the central benchmarks. Students will look at a winning design plan that was submitted by students to NASA as part of the Space Settlement Design Contest.

While it might be helpful for students to understand the criteria that were used to judge the contest and explain why this particular entry was successful, students will conduct their own assessment of the plan based upon the ideas in the central benchmark.  

Planning Ahead

You can print out the Tango III: A Space Settlement design and give a copy to each student or students can work online to evaluate the proposal.


Begin by sharing some of the images found on the Space Colony Artwork page and the Student Artwork 1999 page. These have been converted to jpegs and are available as thumbnails, quarter pages, full screens, and publication quality images. You can download a selection of the images and use them in a Power Point slide show to display for the whole class. 

As they are viewing the slide show, ask students to reflect upon their feelings about living on a space station. What do they think would it be like? Do they think they could do it?

Survey students' opinions on the likelihood of space settlements in the near future. Ask each student to make a guess as to when they think that living on space stations will become a reality for ordinary people. Consider what will need to be worked out before that can happen. What are the problems that need to be overcome? Have students make a list. They will continue to refine this list as the lesson progresses.  


NASA has identified the main problems that need to be solved in a successful space station design. Ask students to brainstorm about what they think these might be. Write the students' ideas on the board. Students should then use their Design a Space Station student esheet to go to and read the NASA: Space Settlement Basics article and compare their list with that one.
After students have read the article, discuss and review the information, using these questions:

  • What materials would be needed to build a space station? What would they be used for? Where would they be obtained, and how?
  • What energy source would the space station use? How would it be harnessed and converted to a form that space station settlers could use?
  • What are the transportation needs, including the means to launch a space station into orbit? Would it be possible to launch a pre-built station from Earth? Would you want to do this? Is there another way? What about transportation once the station is built? Where would the settlers need to go? Can a space station be self-sufficient?
  • Who might want to live on a space station? What would be the benefits? How would they communicate with others on earth or in other settlements? What life support systems would they need? What design considerations must be taken into account to ensure that life can be supported in space?
  • What are the environmental concerns? Why would solar flares or cosmic rays be a problem? How could you protect the space station?
  • How much would it cost to build a space station? How much would it cost to maintain a space station? Where would the money come from?

Following this discussion, tell students that they will now use their knowledge to evaluate a design plan written by students for a NASA contest. Students should usse their esheet to go to Tango III: A Space Settlement Design.

You can print out the design and give a copy to each student or you can have the students work online to evaluate the proposal. Distribute the Designing a Space Station student sheet on which students will answer these questions:

  • Who will benefit from the proposed space settlement? 
  • What human, material, and energy resources will be needed to build, install, operate, and maintain the space settlement? Where will they come from?
  • What are the primary technologies that will be utilized? Are there risks associated with them?
  • Can you think of alternatives to those proposed that would achieve the same ends? If so, what are they? What evidence do you have that they would be better?
  • What are the financial costs? Are these clearly stated in the proposal? Can you identify any costs that were not mentioned by the writers?
  • What are the risks involved in the design? Who bears the risks? How serious are they?
  • How will waste products in the space settlement be disposed of and at what costs? 

Students should use the resources found on Space Colony Designer's Corner to help them write their evaluations of the proposed space settlement. Especially helpful is the Needs Menu

After students have answered the questions on the student sheet, they should give an overall ranking to the proposed design using this point scale:

3. I highly recommend that Tango project be approved for further development without modification
2. I recommend that the Tango project be approved with one or two modifications. (Please elaborate.)
1. I recommend that the Tango project proposal be resubmitted to address the following issues: (please list)
0. I do not recommend that the Tango project go forward.

Once each student has completed his or her evaluation, collect their responses and tally the scores. Discuss the results with the class. Allow students to discuss their responses and to elaborate on their ideas. Encourage students to cite specific details from the proposal to support their scores. After the class has discussed the ratings, ask if any students would like to revise their ratings. Recalculate the responses and announce the results to the class.  


Give students time to reflect upon their own thinking regarding space stations. Did learning more about how they might be designed change their minds about the possibility of real people living in space? Is it a risk they would be willing to take?

Students should revisit their prediction of when they think space stations will become a reality. Have they changed their predictions? Even if the predictions haven't changed, each student should be better able to defend their predictions at this point.


Orbital Space Settlements Online Course is an eight-week course on space settlements from NASA. It uses many of the resources found in this lesson toward the goal of having teams of students design their own space station. It was developed for teachers who want to help their students enter the NASA Space Settlement Design Contest.

International High School Space Settlement Design Competition is an industry simulation set in the future in which teams of high-school students prepare designs for cities in space where over 10,000 people will live. The Competition is an exercise of creativity, technical competence, management skills, environmental knowledge, resources in space, teamwork, and presentation techniques. Each year, the Competition organizers develop a new design challenge. Participating teams of students simulate the experience of working on an industry proposal team.

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Lesson Details

Grades Themes Project 2061 Benchmarks State Standards