Orbital (The Culture)

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In Iain M. Banks' fictional Culture universe, an Orbital (sometimes also simply called an O or a small ring) is a purpose-built space habitat forming a massive ring (though much smaller than a ringworld) rotating to simulate gravity.

Its inhabitants, often numbering many billions, live on the inside of the ring, where continent-sized 'plates' have been shaped to provide all sorts of natural environments and climates, often with the aim of producing especially spectacular results.




Banks has described Orbitals as looking like "a god's bracelet" hanging in outer space. Orbitals are ribbon-like hoops of a super-strong material (see also unobtainium) reinforced and joined with force fields. Each Orbital possesses a 'hub', a station suspended at its rotational centre which houses the Orbital's governing Mind.

An Orbital is similar to a ringworld but is much smaller and does not enclose its primary star within itself, instead orbiting the star in a more conventional manner, making it much more intrinsically stable than a ringworld. Many different civilizations are known to use Orbitals sized according to the preferences of the builders; the Culture's Orbitals are approximately ten million kilometres in circumference, which, together with their rotational speed, creates gravity and day-night cycles to normal Culture standard.[1] They have widths varying between one thousand and six thousand kilometres, giving them a surface area of between 20 and 120 times that of the Earth (but comprising significantly less mass).[2]


The inside of the hoop can be formed to any type of planetary environment, from desert to ocean to jungle to glacier. The structure is usually divided into individual 'plates', similar to continents. Though there need be no directly visible indication for the transition from one plate to another, on some Orbitals the border between neighboring plates is marked by an artificially high string of mountains known as a 'bulkhead range'. These also serve to contain the atmosphere in those areas where the Orbital may not yet be complete, with those gaps in the plate ring being bridged only by forcefields.[3]

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