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: