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:

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