The tables of content for all SSI space manufacturing conference reports are available online as a research tool.
Prospecting for Space Resources
Earth-Sun Trojan Asteroids
Lunar Polar Probe
Lunar Sodium Search
International Lunar Polar Orbiter
International Asteroid Mission
Advanced Mass Driver Studies
Processing Space Resources
HF-Acid Leach Process
Silicon Coatings as a By-Product of
Magma Electrolysis Project
Lunar Simulant Project
Solar Powered Glass Pilot Plant
Magnetic Beneficiation of Lunar Soil
Iron as a By-Product of Ilmenite Reduction
Fused Soil Products for Space Construction
SSI has a long history of searching for possible solar system resources. Because of the enormous cost of launching materials from the Earth’s gravity well, even small quantities of material can be enormously valuable for space operations and construction.
SSI Senior Advisor and Nobel Laureate in Physics, Dr. Hannes Alfven, suggested that asteroids may be trapped within the Earth’s orbit 60 degrees ahead and behind our planet as it moves around the Sun. Asteroids known as Trojan asteroids have been found in corresponding locations in Jupiter’s orbit. Under support from SSI, Dr. R. Scott Dunbar studied the possibility of the existence of Earth-Sun Trojan asteroids for his doctoral thesis at Princeton University.
In 1985, SSI commissioned a study by James French of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on the concept of a small dedicated spacecraft which could fly to lunar orbit and search for trapped volatiles and other useful resources present on the Moon, particularly in the permanently shadowed regions near the Moon’s poles. The results of this study were delivered to the President’s National Commission on Space, which wrote that searching for such volatiles should be a “first priority.”
In 1989, the Institute began planning a private, dedicated spacecraft to complete the geochemical mapping of the Moon begun during the Apollo program. Lunar Prospector carried a NASA-supplied gamma-ray spectrometer capable of sensing hydrogen and other elements from low-lunar orbit and provided gravity and magnetic mapping during its one-year lunar mission.
Using ground-based spectroscopy, Francis G. Graham of Kent State University conducted a search for sodium vapor on the Moon.
Dr. Larry Lehman and Dr. Gay Canough, of ExtraTerrestrial Materials Incorporated, produced under contract to SSI a study of space debris with particular emphasis on debris collection and utilization as a possible space resource.
Under SSI support, Dr. Gay Canough of our Lunar Prospector team assisted in the International Space University project to design a Lunar Polar Orbiter during the summer of 1989 at the Universite Louis Pasteur in Strasbourg, France. The leader for the design project was SSI Trustee James D. Burke of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
International Asteroid Mission
The Space Studies Institute and International Space University engaged in a joint project to examine the appropriate mix of ground- and space-based asteroid search techniques, including mining the data bases of space missions such as IRAS and Space Telescope. In addition, the project looked at the feasibility of manned resource recovery missions to an asteroid.
The purpose of the mass driver is to accelerate payloads of material to a high velocity by the transformation of electrical energy to the mechanical energy of motion. In one application the payloads would be of lunar soil, the mass driver would be mounted on the lunar surface, and it would accelerate the payloads to the escape velocity of the Moon. These payloads would be collected at a point in space to serve as the material source for space manufacturing.
Although the idea of using an electric catapult in space applications had been discussed in science and science fiction literature for some years, the first practical device was constructed by Dr. Gerard K. O’Neill and Dr. Harry Kolm in 1977. O’Neill and Kolm, working with a team of graduate students at MIT, constructed Mass Driver I from about $3,000 worth of scrounged electronic parts. In its initial tests, this push-only machine achieved over 33 gravities.
Mass Driver II demonstrated magnetic levitation of the moving portion of the mass driver (the bucket), and optical triggering of the drive coils. This machine was operated at nearly 500 gravities and demonstrated the feasibility of the circuitry necessary to store and direct the electrical power required for mass driver operation.
Mass Driver III demonstrated O’Neill’s pull-only design, which provided automatic centering for the buckets as they traveled down the length of the accelerator. By removing the apparatus for magnetic flight and improving the coupling between the drive coils and the bucket, Mass Driver Ill has demonstrated over 1,800 gravities acceleration. The following table illustrates mass driver progress showing the length of a lunar machine required to obtain escape velocity with each of the demonstrated technologies.
Senior Associate Mark Senn of Purdue University upgraded the computer programs originally designed by Dr. O’Neill for mass driver design. Dr. Leslie Snively, who conducted the Institute’s Mass Driver III project, prepared a mass driver simulation in order to better understand issues such as powering the bucket coil as it moves through the accelerator without physical contact.
SSI conducted a feasibility study on the use of an aerostatically supported mass driver for terrestrial launch of bulk payloads.
The Space Studies Institute continues to track advances in the field of electromagnetic launch and related technologies. In particular, high-power switching devices and power storage equipment developments are regularly reviewed.
SSI has investigated a broad spectrum of lunar resource processing techniques These range from the use of raw lunar soil as shielding material to systems which can process lunar soil into virtually all its constituent elements. In general, the trend of SSI’s research in this area has gone from examinations of the more complex processes to the near-term possibilities of one or two product systems producing such materials as oxygen, aluminum, silicon, and iron.
The Institute’s initial chemical processing research endeavor was an examination of an HF-Acid Leach technique which could obtain a wide range of constituent elements from lunar soil. This work was accomplished under an SSI contract to Rockwell International.
This project, conducted by Dr. Rudolf Keller of EMEC, explored the possibility of producing silicon materials on substrates as a by-product of molten salt electrolysis of lunar soil.
Under joint funding from the Space Studies Institute and the University of Arizona, Dr. Keller further refinined lunar electrolysis techniques for the production of oxygen and other materials using technologies developed in the electrochemical industry.
In order to promote further research into processing lunar soils, the Space Studies Institute commissioned a study by the Energy and Materials Laboratory of the University of North Dakota on the production of lunar simulants. This study examined simulants manufactured all over the world for the U.S. and Soviet Iunar programs and is proving valuable to the Institute’s present lunar processing initiatives.
Brandt Goldsworthy demonstrated the production of glass fibers and glass matrix materials from lunar simulant. The combination of these materials into fiberglass-like glass/glass composites could provide a basic construction material supply for solar power satellites, space habitats, lunar installations, and other uses.
The Space Studies Institute entered into a joint project with McDonnell Douglas Corporation arid Alcoa/Goldsworthy Engineering for the construction of a pilot-scale solar power glass composite production facility. Using a 10.3 meter concentrator with a focusing capacity of 10,000 suns, this unit was the first large-scale demonstration of lunar processing techniques.
The Space Studies Institute aided Dr. Robin Oder of ExporTech in a project to demonstrate new techniques for removing native iron from actual lunar soil samples. The Institute supplied Dr. Oder with lunar simulant and simulant data, which enabled him to acquire actual Apollo lunar materials for magnetic separation tests.
A team of researchers at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute demonstrated techniques for recovering iron as a by-product of the hydrogen reduction of ilmenite to produce lunar oxygen.
Architect Nader Khalili of the Geltaftan Foundation and Senior Associate Joseph Kennedy demonstrated techniques for using concentrated solar thermal energy to produce fused soil structures and building materials which may be used for lunar paving and habitats.
This study, performed by Major Alex Gimarc, provided the Institute and members of the President’s National Commission on Space with a comprehensive overview of uses for the Space Shuttle external tank when saved in orbit. This report was extensively cited and used as one foundation for the policy that permittted use of Shuttle external tanks for private space projects.
A number of SSI Senior Associates and members developed CAD (computer aided design) drawings of external tank components for use in space habitat and platform design.
SSI conducted an External Tank Propellant Scavenging Workshop with representatives of the Martin Marietta Corporation and Atomic Energy of Canada. This workshop looked at ways to save the 10,000 lbs of residual propellants which remain in the External Tank when it is jettisoned.
The Space Studies Institute engaged in a cooperative venture with a group at the Air Force Institute of Technology on the system design of a Facility that could process spent external tanks into feedstocks for space construction.
The Institute constructed a lunar mining simulation to test and demonstrate dragline hardware and surface mining techniques.
SSI personnel participated in the 1988 ISU Lunar Base Design Project at MIT, which developed a lunar base designed to launch raw materials for solar power satellite construction.
SSI sponsored a lunar mining contest for students of the International Space University at MIT in 1988. Portions of the contest were televised worldwide on Cable News Network.
The Institute conducted a study to examine long lead time items required for orbital transfer vehicles capable of transporting people and materials from low-Earth orbit to lunar orbit.
SSI’s Lunar Teleoperations group conducted a series of teleoperations demonstrations that enabled users to simulate controlling machinery on the surface of the Moon from the Earth. A lunar teleoperations display designed by the Institute is now a permanent part of the Franklin Institute Museum in Philadelphia, PA.
The Space Studies Institute and University of Maryland proposed a series of experiments to determine appropriate tools for lunar surface and lunar subsurface mining activity. These experiments take advantage of simulants arid soil compaction techniques developed by Dr. Leonhard Bernold of the University of Maryland.
Dr. Gerard K. O’Neill, founder of the Institute and author of the book The High Frontier, chaired three NASA studies on the design of large-scale space habitats. The development of these human cities in space is a high priority for the Institute, and we believe that they will be a natural outgrowth of large-scale activity, such as solar power satellites. SSI continues to press for research in artificial gravity, closed-cycle life support, and other critical space colony technologies. In addition, we have engaged in a number of related projects, detailed below.
One of the key design parameters for space habitats will be determined by human response to the rotation required for the production of artificial gravity. This project surveyed all known data on human rotation tolerance and included partial support for a rotating variable gravity sleeper, constructed at the MIT Manned Vehicle Lab.
This project assessed the possibility of conducting small experiments in space with artificial gravity, including such government programs as LifeSat.
SSI provided Masters thesis support for the design of a space habitat interior by Mr. Paul Klaus, who has worked on the design of Antarctic bases and “wintered over” in Antarctica as background for this project.
The collection of solar power in space for transmission to the Earth is seen by the Space Studies Institute as an economic driver that will open the high frontier. We are seeing growing interest in this concept as the result of worldwide response to fossil fuel pollution, hazards of nuclear waste, and carbon dioxide effects on the Earth’s atmosphere. In addition, the Institute is examining the prospects for space-to-space power transmission.
SSI commissioned a landmark study on the design of the solar power satellite, optimized for maximum use of lunar materials. This study concluded that over 99% of the mass of a solar power satellite could be lunar in origin, reducing the cost by nearly 97% compared to terrestrially launched power satellites.
In addition to photovoltaic techniques for converting solar power into electricity, SSI has examined the use of stirling cycle engines for this purpose.
Traditionally, spacecraft have been dependent on chemical propellants which are expelled by the energies contained within their chemical bonds. Future spacecraft may receive energy from external sources. The energy will be transmitted to the spacecraft in the form of a radio frequency or laser beam, reducing the mass of the spacecraft. SSI has looked at the possibility of beamed power for space propulsion as a consumer of space power and a driver for near-term space development.
As SSI’s research projects have evolved, we have learned that some forms of space resources may be considerably easier to process than others. As a result, SSI commissioned a follow-up study to our original SPS design project. This new study looked at SPS designs which could be constructed from the simplest forms of non-terrestrial materials, including Space Shuttle external tanks and lunar oxygen, glass and iron.
The Space Studies Institute and Dr. Peter E. Glaser of the Arthur D. Little Corporation jointly investigated the possibility of a space power demonstration project for International Space Year, which would transmit energy from one spacecraft to another.
Systems studies provide the broad overview that holds the various elements of SSI’s research together. These studies define the critical paths and provide fine tuning for our research initiatives. Three major systems studies have been conducted during SSI’s history. In addition, a series of smaller studies and SSI conferences at Princeton University, and conferences co-sponsored by the Institute with other groups, transmit the results of our research to the community and provide feedback and input to our family of researchers.
Work continued on a program containing the essential parameters for space resource utilization and transportation. In the studies on space colonization chaired by Dr. O’Neill, he began to examine ways to initiate the large-scale use of space resources for space habitats and solar power satellites without having to start with a huge initial base constructed all at one time. The first result of this planning was published by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) in March, 1978 as “The Low (Profile) Road to Space Manufacturing.” It showed a method for using Shuttle external tanks as reaction mass for an Earth-to-Moon mass driver transport system, which would reduce the cost of setting up the Earth-Moon system.
In 1980, SSI conducted a major systems study that has influenced all of our subsequent work. The study results were published by the AIAA in an article entitled, “New Routes to Manufacturing in Space.” This study introduced the essential concepts of scaling and bootstrapping, which will enable us to start with a small, single “seed” component on the Moon and in space that could grow with a doubling time of 90 days using partial self-replication techniques.
In 1988, the Institute conducted its third major systems study, which looked at opportunities to bootstrap space industry from low-Earth orbit to the lunar surface as a prelude to large-scale space industrialization. The results of this study were published by the Lunar and Planetary Institute as a paper entitled “First Steps to Space Manufacturing.”
Since 1974, SSI has sponsored 13 Conferences on Space Manufacturing, beginning at Princeton University. These conferences provide an outlet for publication of the work conducted by SSI’s principal investigators, and inform the space community of progress in nonterrestrial materials research. Proceedings of the conferences have been published by the AIAA and American Astronautical Society, and by Space Studies Institute. These volumes provide the principal literature on the use of space resources for space construction and industry.
The Institute co-sponsored technical and educational conferences. Examples include the American Society of Civil Engineers, Space ’88 and Space ’90 Conferences the Lunar and Planetary Institute’s Lunar Bases and Space Activities of the 21st Century Conference, the IAF Space Power Conference, and the Space Development Conference series.
In 1990, SSI hosted a visit by a Soviet delegation, including the Deputy Chief Designer of the Energia heavy lift vehicle, from the Energia Space Organization, creators of the Soviet Union’s largest booster. Representatives from U.S. aerospace corporations and other members of the space community received a thorough briefing of the capabilities of the Energia and its subsystems.