Cluster habitats are among the most ubiquitous in the solar system because of their inherent modularity and ability to accommodate expansion. Each module is designed to carry its own loads, so a nearly inﬁnite variety of conﬁgurations is possible. Hypercorp clusters tend to be very orderly and arranged in a lattice formation to ensure high structural stability and maximize efficiency. Autonomist clusters in the outer system very much take on an arrangement that reﬂects the attitudes of the local populace. More communal groups will organize the modules and ﬂoatways to maximize access for every resident. On the other hand, individualist strongholds can be totally amorphous because only those residents who explicitly agree will share floatways and structural connections.
There are two things that really distinguish cluster habitats from tin cans. First, cluster habitats are designed with integral support for such technologies as the mesh, augmented reality, life support, and nanomachinery. Second is the high degree of specialization available to cluster modules because they don’t have to ﬁt all of the habitat’s essential functions in each module. Thus, a cluster habitat could have several dedicated environmental and life support modules distributed about the network providing processing for the entire system, like lymph nodes in a biomorph body. This allows the other modules to focus on their intended function—be it providing a centrifuge, laboratory volume, manufacturing, habitation, multiple airlock chambers, cargo storage, docking facilities, medical bays, or zero-g agriculture.
As a cluster habitat increases in size and mass, external trusses or structural spars may still be necessary to distribute the loads. Somewhat paradoxically, this can be especially required of the individualist habitats that maximize personal expression and choice over the efficiency of the entire system. As a result, only someone with a solid rep is likely to convince the inhabitants of an autonomist cluster habitat to add a module that might add overall stress to the system beyond that which the module’s own structure can carry.
The availability of power systems for cluster habitats is just as diverse. Distributed power networks based on common generators, such as concentrated solar arrays or fusion reactor modules, are characteristic of inner system clusters. On the opposite extreme, individualist habitats may require each module to provide its own power or share resources with neighbors. Entire “neighborhoods” can be deﬁned by their preferred power source, in such circumstances.
Many cluster habs contain tin can modules or mini toruses that are spun to create areas with gravity.
LaFrance rigs are a common conﬁguration consisting of modules and spacecraft anchored in a huge pyramidal lattice of scaffolding with reactors and other utilities at the center. The non-spacecraft components vary between modern cluster modules and low-tech tin cans. LaFrance rigs are common in scum swarms and mobile mining operations. Their main advantage and difference from cluster habitats is their mobility. Phelan’s Recourse, the massive swarm in Saturn orbit, contains several large agglomerations of ships connected in LaFrance rigs or otherwise lashed together.