Sunday, 9 November 2014

Landing on an Asteroid

This is a thirty second sequence from work on the new space habitat film, depicting an unmanned mission landing on a large asteroid in preparation for grabbing a boulder from its surface. Please view in high resolution and at full screen size.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Work on the new film..

A shot from work on the new film about space settlement. Here we see a small space station in low Earth orbit, constructed for the purposes of examining and analyzing near Earth asteroids.  There are two habitat modules along with a laboratory.  A crew capsule is also there for the return to Earth.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Asteroid Redirect Mission - an animation

I'm currently working on a documentary on space habitats as part of the study project for the British Interplanetary Society and have completed the animation for the first section, which shows an initial Asteroid Redirect mission.

The first spacecraft is unmanned and after a gravity assist manoeuvre around Venus it proceeds to obtain the asteroid and then returns it to a high lunar orbit.

A crew capsule then departs Earth orbit to rendezvous with the first and after docking, two astronauts set out to examine the asteroid and take samples from it for further study.

The next section is going to show a mission to a much larger asteroid. This will involve collecting a boulder from the asteroid's surface and returning this to the base of operations in high lunar orbit.  These initial sections are inspired by the NASA plans for missions of this sort and if you are interested in this please look up their animations as well which are, as you might expect, very good.

The eventual finished documentary will include narration to provide further explanation. I'm really enjoying working on it!

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Approach to Island One

Another great animation from Steve Gunn, here we see an approach to an Island One space habitat.  This is part of the British Interplanetary Society's Project SPACE on space settlement.

Island One is a space colony with a population of 10000 people, located at L5.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

#Apollo45 message - 45 years from Apollo 11!

This is a message for the #Apollo45 campaign started by astronaut and moonwalker Dr Buzz Aldrin! Join in and create your own video as well :) It's about remembering and honouring the Apollo moon missions at the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing. What are your memories of or reflections on Apollo? And how has it inspired you?

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Space Habitat images from Steve Gunn

The following are images from Steve Gunn, a colleague from the British Interplanetary Society, as part of Project SPACE, the Society's ongoing study of space habitats. Click on the images for a larger view.

This is a view of Island One, one of the space habitats proposed by Dr Gerard O'Neill.
There is a manufacturing area at the sunward side and docking facilities at the rear.

This is a variation on Island One using a cylinder instead of a sphere.
The three main mirrors are static to save wear and tear, with a loading at their outer edge of 3g at 1.9 RPM (Earth normal gravity in the cylinder. Day/night lighting is achieved by polarizing the windows. The cylinder measures 500m in diameter and is 500m long. Subtracting the area taken up by the windows, this gives a surface area of 635400 square meters (not including the farm areas).

This is an image of Marina, a habitat constructed using an asteroid.
Access to the rotating area is gained in two ways. To dock new modules, the wheel is de-spun. This would be an infrequent event. Crew and cargo transfer are done from the asteroid-based docking facility. A ‘train’ mounted on the rotating portion of the inner ring can slow down to mate with the docking area, then accelerate to match velocity with the wheel.

A different view of Marina.
Seen around the outer edge of the wheel are modules attached to the extensive docking facilities. The smaller of these are sized to fit a Skylon payload bay, some of which house cabins for the small crew. The rest are ‘customer’ modules of various types and uses, being provided a docking berth, power and life support services.

A close up of the habitat of Marina.
The asteroid, docking facilities with attached spacecraft and the inner ring do not rotate. The outer ring, spokes and a small, ring-shaped, section of the inner ring, form the ‘wheel’, which rotates around the rest on the inner ring along a track, probably electro-magnetic in nature to reduce friction.

It's great to have images to help visualize the concepts involved in the study. Steve is a talented computer graphic artist and used Bryce to create these images.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Island Three - An Animation by Steve Gunn

A beautiful animation of an Island Three space colony. These are the truly massive habitats that Dr O'Neill describes in his works.  This animation was created by the very talented Steve Gunn as part of Project SPACE.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Project SPACE

This is an update from Project SPACE, the study project on Space Colonies being run by the British Interplanetary Society.  We had a great meeting recently and these are notes from it.  The meeting was about organising the study project in more detail and deciding who is interested in tackling which part of the project.  It’s a broad concept so there’s lots to get stuck into!

We considered the possibilities for space manufacturing on a colony and will be looking into the revenue a colony could generate from this.  This might include synthetic biology, the processing of rare earth metals and the creation of large industrial crystals for communication satellites and x-ray crystallography, amongst other things.  Carbon nano-tube and graphene production might also be possibilities.

BIS headquarters in Vauxhall, London
The creation of the large space colonies proposed by Dr Gerard O’Neill and others has long been linked to the manufacture of space-based solar power (SBSP) satellites and this was also discussed.  The current state of research into this field was considered and SBSP is a sub-topic that is going to be looked into as part of the project.

A space colony might also be used as part of an infrastructure for the construction of other space craft, both manned and unmanned.  The use of a colony as a “space dock” suggested an exciting vision in which space craft, particularly for deep space exploration, might be constructed there. This might lower the cost of space exploration as once such an infrastructure was in place, the expense of transferring large amounts of mass from the Earth’s surface would be greatly lowered and would in effect be limited to human travellers and a few essential items.  Similarly, a space colony might serve as a centre for research for laser propulsion space travel and also as the site for the laser.

This discussion about possible forms of revenue involved a discussion about the economics concerning the construction and operation of a space colony and we will be looking into this as well.  In considering the economics of space colony construction we also discussed the relative merits of using lunar material to build the colony with its attendant base and mass driver in comparison to an alternative method of using asteroids for this purpose.  The use of an asteroid could involve tunnelling into the body of a suitably sized asteroid and fashioning the colony directly from its mass. 

There are advantages in this approach which might make it quicker and cheaper than the method set out in The High Frontier and similar studies and this is one of the ways in which the concept of a space colony needs to be updated from the studies in the seventies.  Using this method would require surveying potential asteroids including both spectroscopic analysis and sending probes to the asteroids for more detailed information.  The composition of the asteroid would need to be clearly understood.  Use of asteroids might in itself, because of the elements that might be found there, raise the possibility of revenue from the raw materials.

In discussing these points, it was interesting to have to hand a beautiful model of the asteroid Eros, created by 3d printing. Eros is large enough to possibly form an Island Three space habitat from!  We also talked about making contact with Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources in this regard as they are focussed on asteroid mining.

James from Project SPACE with a model of the asteroid Eros made by 3d printing
Other possibilities for revenue from a space colony considered were that of being a holiday destination and even as a tax haven. 

We are also going to be looking into human health issues such as whether a slightly lower pseudo-gravity of say 0.8g might be used.  Issues concerning diet and the provision of medical facilities are also to be considered.  In particular we will be looking at the ever present danger of radiation from cosmic rays and how the colony would need to be shielded in some way from this.

The basic designs for the colonies are going to be looked into as well including rethinking whether three separate basic structures is a good idea or whether a more modular progression in size would be a better idea.  We are also going to be looking at the possible incremental progression of space habitats from the size of the International Space Station to the size of Island One. This could involve a habitat nicknamed during the course of our meeting as “Island Zero” – a habitat smaller than an Island One made using the asteroid tunnelling technique outlined above.  Reconsidering the essential spherical design inherent of Island One is also another point to look at.

Building up to an Island One, we looked at the restraint imposed in the initial studies of limiting the overall budget to that of Project Apollo. We will also be looking into the Kalpana One space habitat as a first step before Island One.  Another point is looking into whether there is a need for the Island Two design; is it an unnecessary side step on the way to the large scale Island Three space habitat?

Another major point in updating the original studies from the seventies is the greater sophistication of robotic systems and we will be looking at how these might change the construction and operation of a space colony compared to the original plans especially in terms of time and expense. 

We are also looking into the possibilities for sponsorship for Project SPACE which would help pay for talks on the subject, models and props, films and websites and printed literature on the subject.

It had been a very enjoyable meeting and we are looking forward to the further progress of Project SPACE! 

Our traditional cake with the Project SPACE logo, thanks to Jerry Stone!

Thursday, 24 April 2014

British Interplanetary Society’s Study Project on Space Colonies - an update

by Adam Manning

One of the regular conference calls took place last week for the space colonies' study group for the British Interplanetary Society and we had an in depth discussion about some of the fundamental components of the classic concept for space colonies as set out in the works of Dr Gerard O’Neill and others.

In particular, we discussed the use of mass drivers on the lunar surface as a way of propelling material from the Moon to the point where the colony is to be constructed. This is typically given as L5, which here is used to refer to a point in the Moon’s orbit around the Earth that lies sixty degrees behind the Moon.

If a space colony were put in orbit around the L5 point it is expected to remain there almost indefinitely due to its gravitational equilibrium.  In the concept of space colonies put forward by the studies in the 1970s, the space colony is largely made from material mined from the lunar surface.  This material is then propelled to L5 using a mass driver.

A mass driver on the lunar surface
A mass driver uses a long series of electromagnets to accelerate a payload so that the payload is moving fast enough to launch off the surface of the Moon into space.  Dr O’Neill and his colleagues were able to achieve quite remarkable results using prototypes they developed.  Whilst as a technology the mass driver has seemingly rather languished in obscurity since that time, the similar rail gun concept has received more attention and the US Navy recently revealed the advanced stage that their development of the rail gun as a weapon of war had reached.

In considering the rail gun, we noted the very large energy requirements involved and considered the implications for the proposed mass driver on the Moon.  Whilst the energy requirements for a mass driver would presumably be less on the Moon than on Earth due to the much lower gravity and virtual lack of an atmosphere, there can be no doubt that this would still be an intensive operation and the original plans, such as set out in Colonies in Space by Thomas Heppenheimer, call for a nuclear power station to be installed on the Moon for this purpose.  This of course would entail practical problems by itself, not least of which would be the general hostility and caution that launching nuclear materials from Earth involves. 

Thinking through these issues lead to a reconsideration of the plan as a whole. Perhaps one of the most substantial change in outlook since the seventies when the original plans were drawn up is the much greater awareness of Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) and in particular the asteroids that make up a large contingent of NEOs.  It was suggested that the construction of a colony could be simplified by use of the resources of NEOs. 

NASA is currently working on a mission to capture an asteroid and then move it to lunar orbit.  This striking plan, known as the Asteroid Retrieval and Utilisation mission (ARU), was considered by us as a possible precursor for the sort of activity that might form the basis for an alternative method of colony construction.  ARU proposes using essentially a net to capture an asteroid and then transfer it to lunar orbit using an unmanned spacecraft.

Illustration of astronauts during an ARU mission

Here, an asteroidal NEO could be retrieved in a similar way and then transferred to L5. Once in position, it could then directly be fashioned into the structure that was needed to form a space colony.  The material of the asteroid could be fashioned into the main structure itself along with perhaps the shielding that is needed to protect the inhabitants of the colony from cosmic rays.

Ostensibly the advantages here are a simplification and shortening of the mode of construction of the space colony. Rather than having to construct a lunar base and its attendant mass driver and then propel the construction material to L5, then build what Heppenheimer refers to as the construction shacks and then build the colony itself, instead the colony is simply fashioned out of the body of the asteroid with the colony then in place once it is completed. One particular advantage of this asteroid utilization would be an incremental approach. A smaller asteroid could be used at first to construct a small habitat, such as the construction shack itself.  As larger asteroids are captured, larger habitats could be built until a full colony was established.

Objections to this approach include a certain lack of knowledge of the structure of asteroids, particular NEO ones. For example, it may be that they are simply not dense enough to be used in this way.  Indeed it is speculated that some smaller asteroids are actually bundles of rubble kept together by gravity rather than a solid mass.  The ARU mission, which NASA hopes to complete by 2025, may hold the answers to this.  Similarly, a large asteroid may have fault lines running through it or sections that have a different density from others.  In this case, the operation may involve processing the asteroid material into a suitable condition rather than just effectively carving the colony out of it. A combination of both methods might also be employed.

This brings to mind another method of using NEO material not considered during our discussion.  This plan has been proposed by, amongst others, Al Globus, a much respected advocate of space colonization.  In brief the plan, called AsterAnts, involves launching solar sail powered spacecraft from the International Space Station to retrieve small NEOs (between 50 cm and 1 metre in diameter) and returning them to the ISS for the material to be processed.  At that point, the new material can then be used for new spacecraft, the extension of the ISS, rocket propellant and so forth. 

This discussion bought home to me the realization that this was a striking difference in how the original plans by Dr O’Neill might be if drawn up today based on asteroid material rather than construction based on lunar soil.  We also discussed how the introduction of these extraterrestrial resources could affect the global economy and how this would be regulated by a legal system. 

I’m looking forward to further discussions with the other participants from the British Interplanetary Society’s study group and hoping we have another of our meetings at their headquarters as well.

Friday, 21 March 2014

External Links for Space Colonies

Some Q&A on various aspects of a space colony. If anyone has any other answers please get in touch!
1.    External links
1.1. Manufacturing and Exports
1.1.1.  What products might the colonies be able to produce and export other than Solar Power Stations? What products would benefit from production in weightlessness / low gravity / vacuum?
A: Construction of other space craft. Crystals also for use in X-Ray crystallography.
1.2. Imports
1.2.1.  What materials, products and equipment would need to be imported from Earth?
A: Animals and plants for food. Air to breathe and water to drink.  
1.2.2.  Where would the colonies obtain the hydrocarbons required to manufacture the plastics that they will need? What would be the effect of the supply of plastics being restricted? What equivalents or substitutes can be man-made?
A: The use of plants or carbonaceous asteroids to produce plastics?
1.3. AM: Are new space companies such as Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources interested in working towards the concept of Space Colonies? If not are they interested in the ideas involved?
A. Deep Space do feature space colonies towards the end of their introductory video, as if they were the ultimate goal of their activities.  Planetary Resources do not seem to mention it directly and emphasize the use of asteroid resources rather than lunar ones.  Would it be helpful to become part of their activities in some way?
 Are there any existing companies that would be interested in working towards the construction of an initial Space Colony? Does one need to be created?
A: Deep Space Industries have the construction of space colonies as part of their plan, at least in the sense of something they aim to facilitate. 

Manufacturing in weightlessness

Dear Friends

Do you manufacture any products or components where weightlessness or low gravity might be of benefit?

Over 40 years ago, a professor at Princeton University named Gerard O’Neill posed a question to a study group of new students, asking them; “Is a planetary surface the right place for an expanding technological civilisation?”.

Somewhat surprisingly, the answer turned out to be “No”.

A better place, it seemed, was a structure like a space station, but on a massive scale. Further studies produced designs for space colonies housing from 10,000 to 10,000,000 people.

The studies were deliberately restricted to the technology of the time, so that no-one could claim that the ideas were unfeasible due to relying on materials that had not yet been invented.

However, since the designs that were published in the mid-1970s there have been many advances in all kinds of technology, and I am part of a study group at the British Interplanetary Society to reexamine and update the original studies.

A major factor in the rejection of a planetary surface was that out in free space the energy of the Sun would be available all the time. The Sun’s heat can be easily focussed to provide temperatures up to 5,000ÂșC, and sunlight can be converted to provide virtually unlimited electric power. In addition, manufacturing can take under weightless conditions, or in units which can be rotated to provide various levels of gravity. Raw materials can be obtained from the Moon and the asteroids, and finished products “exported” to the surface of the Earth.

As part of the current project, the study group is collating information on the demand for spacebased manufacturing, and the reason I am writing this is to ask if you can suggest any manufacturing processes that might benefit from taking place under such circumstances. Do you manufacture any products or components where weightlessness or low gravity might be of benefit?

Can you think of any others?

I would be very happy to discuss this with you or any of your colleagues. You can contact me by email at

I look forward to hearing from you.

Adam Manning

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Space Settlements - a Design Study

Edited by Richard D. Johnson & Charles Holbrow
Gerard O'Neill, Technical Director

A review by Adam Manning

Representing a detailed and comprehensive overview of the concept of the colonization of space, this volume was the product of a ten week programme in engineering systems design held at Stanford University and the NASA's Ames Research Center that took place during the summer of 1975.

We are taken on a quick tour of the basics of the concept as set out for example in previous works by Dr Gerard O'Neill and the general plan of constructing much of the colony from lunar material that is then transported using a mass driver to the L5 Lagrangian point. Once delivered this is then used for the construction of the space colony.

We are then plunged into a detailed overview of each step of the construction process including the materials required, the work force to be employed and the energy and money spent to achieve the goal.  It is a fascinating insight into the complexity and detail of such an undertaking and perhaps represents one of the high points in the technical overview of space colony construction and use.

There is a discussion on the best configuration for a space colony, the nature of the lunar base needed to mine the material used to construct the colony, the workings of the mass driver and the net to catch the material once it arrives at L5.  This is not a coffee table style general introduction into the subject but a thorough exposition into what might be required to implement the project. Of particular interest was a discussion on a shield that might be used to protect the inhabitants of the colony from cosmic rays.

At the same time, this study is also very clear on further work that needs to be undertaken including, for example, a better understanding of the Coriolis effect, whether humans living in space could tolerate slightly lower than 1g for long periods of time without ill effect and so on. 

As with a number of authorities on the construction of the O'Neillian style space colonies, the main practical purpose for their construction is the building of space solar power satellites.  This is also looked at and the energy creation that might arise as a result is studied. 

Space solar power is a whole subject by itself but this study takes the view that space colonies are the best way for the widespread implementation of space solar power to proceed.  This is because the construction of space solar power satellites using lunar materials processed at a colony will ultimately be cheaper and easier than fabricating them on Earth and placing them into orbit from Earth.

Satellite solar power stations provide, according to this book, the main commercial justification of the colony.  The study also consider whether the microwave transmission of energy from the solar power stations in orbit is safe or at least non-hazardous and concludes that it is.

There is a lot of highly technical and mathematical information in this book which will be beyond the mainstream reader but nevertheless this is an excellent book to enrich the understanding of the concepts involved in space colonization once the classics such as the High Frontier and Colonies in Space have been digested.  Re-prints of the original can now be purchased through Amazon and it can also be accessed online here:

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Aspects of Space Law - Notes from a presentation at the British Interplanetary Society

By Adam Manning LLB, LLM

Please note the following does not constitute legal advice. Any inaccuracies please let me know!

Legal ownership of space resources

Prior to Sputnik I and the start of the Space Age in 1957, the English legal position concerning the ownership of space had been remarkably clear.  The common law set forth the proposition of cuius est solum, eius est usque ad coelum et ad infernos. Lawyers are not supposed to use Latin in these modern times so I ought to provide a translation before my practising certificate is rescinded.  This handy phrase means that an owner of a parcel of land owns everything directly above and for that matter below it, to the Heavens themselves or Hell below.  This doctrine clearly has its origins in a pre-scientific age when the practical exploitation of the heavens, or rather space, was of no significance.

Exceptions to this rule soon became apparent though, such as the Crown’s rights to certain minerals below a plot of ground and with the advent of air travel by balloon the absurdities that might arise from applying the principle became evident.  When aircraft took to the skies, legal exceptions were allowed so that those flying over land could not be sued for trespass and whilst in theory the common law principle extended beyond Earth orbit, it is unlikely anyone will ever successfully claim damages against the owners of a satellite passing over their land using this ancient common law principle.

With the start of the Space Age, the need for a legal regime to manage and regulate this new arena of human endeavour became apparent.  The United Nations was the natural focus of efforts to consider these issues at an international level and following work in the early sixties, the Outer Space Treaty was drawn up in 1967.  More fully known as the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, this was and continues to be the major legislative enactment concerning the exploration and exploitation of space and the celestial bodies contained within it (with the exception of course of the Earth).

The Outer Space Treaty is of major importance, not least because as of 2012 it had been ratified by all the space faring nations.  Drawn up during one of the most dangerous phases of the Cold War, its major preoccupation is unsurprisingly the peaceful use of space.  States are prohibited from installing nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in orbit or on the Moon or other celestial bodies.  We have to be grateful that the Treaty has been successful in this aim to date.

Other provisions are more directly of interest to those studying the law relating to the exploration and exploitation of resources to be found in space (which I will take to include those on celestial bodies, to use the Treaty’s language).  According to the Treaty, nation states cannot claim ownership of extraterrestrial resources including land itself.  So, the USA could not for example claim an area around the Apollo moon landing sites as thereby falling within USA ownership.

It is thought this prohibition on ownership does not extend to private ownership so a company or even an individual could claim some form of de facto ownership presumably by an act of occupation.  Nation states are expected to regulate space activities by their citizens and one of the lesser known aspects of this obligation is that nation states are effectively responsible or liable for the activities in space of their citizens.  So, for example, if a British company carries out activities on the Moon this could lead to the U.K. government becoming liable for any acts of that enterprise.  In the U.K. these obligations are implemented under the Outer Space Act 1986 which provides for licensing of space activities by the U.K. government.

In comparison, the later Moon Treaty of 1979 has not been as successful in shaping the legal regime of outer space.  The Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, to give the treaty it’s full name, went further than the previous one in seeking to regulate the use of space resources. 

One of the Moon Treaty’s core concepts is that space, the Moon, the planets and all other celestial bodies aside from the Earth are the common heritage of humanity.  This doctrine is mentioned in the Outer Space Treaty but is more fully developed here as its general tenor appears to prevent the ownership or exploitation of space resources either by nation states or private organizations or individuals. 

The Moon Treaty has yet to be ratified by any of the space faring nations and it is possible to see it as an attempt by non space faring nations, particularly from the developing world, to inhibit the richer space enabled countries from exploiting the resources to be found in outer space for their own gain.  Whilst enough countries have ratified it for it to have legal force, the lack of full ratification suggests it would in reality be of dubious enforceability.

The treaty looks forward to a time when the exploitation of, for example, lunar materials might be a practical reality and stipulates that before that takes place an international regime is implemented to regulate such activity.  This might involve some form of land registration for lunar territories presumably organised under the auspices of the United Nations.

Commentators have suggested that this approach is resistant to the use or exploitation of space resources particularly from a commercial view.  It’s likely that when the use of lunar or other celestial resources becomes a reality the Moon Treaty’s lack of enforceability will lead to it falling away. 

Law of the International Space Station

The legal regime concerning the International Space Station (ISS) is founded on the joint agreements between the contracting states responsible for it’s construction. 

The ISS consists of interlocking modules, each of which originates from one of the contracting states and the applicable law of each module is that of the state which constructed it.  In effect each section of the ISS is a continuation of the jurisdiction of the state that built it and this applies to both criminal and civil law, including intellectual property law.

It is difficult to see how this concept might be applied to a large O’Neillian style space station even if constructed by a collection of nation states as such a habitat would be a more integrated design than the modular nature of the ISS.  Nevertheless, it is not impossible to imagine a space station built with some degree of modularity and in the early stages a division of this sort might be feasible and indeed desirable to ensure it is built.