SSI Newsletters: 1990 May June Research Special

Space Studies Institute Research 1990 cover
P.O. BOX 82
[[librarian note: This address is here, as it was in the original printed newsletter, for historical reasons. It is no longer the physical address of SSI. For contributions, please see this page]]




Introduction to Space Studies Institute (SSI) Research

The Space Studies lnstitute’s primary activity is the development of tools and techni­ques to harvest space resources. SSI’s plan calls for the use of resources already in space to:

1. Provide clean energy to the Earth, to im­prove the environment, and enhance the quality of life. Eventually, the use of energy and material resources from space can help heal the damage caused by population pressure and the resulting quest for pollution-causing fossil fuels;

2. Provide an economic foundation for space enterprises that will support a strong, continued program of exploration and utilization of the energy and material resources of the high frontier;

3. Enable the creation of a broad ecological range for the human species throughout the solar system and eventually beyond.

We believe that this process can be bootstrapped in a commercially viable way by first using simple nonterrestrial resources to support space operations which would other­wise be dependent on supply from the bottom of the Earth’s deep gravity well.

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By using space resources we can establish a system to construct solar power satellites to supply the Earth’s energy needs. We can also provide permanent habitats in free space for construction personnel and their families so that costly crew rotations can be eliminated.

Space can be made a true frontier, analogous to that presented by the opening of the Americas, enabling vast new economic op­portunities. These are made possible by the large amount of energy per capita available in space, the creation of new lands through the construction of permanent habitats in free space, and the availability of material resources from lunar and asteroidal materials.

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By providing a broad spectrum of oppor­tunities and choices, we can promote and ex­pand cherished human freedoms, traditions, and cultures. We can increase the longevity of our species by diversifying human societies throughout the solar system.

To achieve these goals the Space Studies Institute is engaged in an ongoing program of research and education.

The Space Studies Institute has conducted nearly 50 research projects, each designed to bring us closer to opening the high frontier for all humanity. Initially, the Institute worked on a single area at a time, such as the series of proof-of-concept mass drivers and the bench­scale testing of steps in the HF-acid leach technique for processing lunar soil. Thanks to the support of the SSI members and con­tributors, a number of projects are now under way in parallel.

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In addition, SSI research has naturally evolved, as we learned from the results of our past efforts. For example, our initial research on the design of solar power satellites from lunar materials assumed that any material reasonably abundant in lunar soil could be used for SPS construction. However, as the result of our work in simple forms of nonter­restrial materials, we decided to revisit SPS design with a study of early economical solar power satellite designs that could be con­structed from the most easily processed types of lunar materials.

In general, SSI research projects are designed to prove the elements of a critical path of technologies which will enable the use of space resources for the construction of space colonies and solar power satellites.

Further, the Institute explores potential breakthroughs which could dramatically lower the cost or shorten the time frame for im­plementation of our overall plan. An example of this latter sort of high-leverage activity is the concept of prospecting for space resources. The location of lunar polar water deposits or easily accessible asteroids could dramatically improve the prospects for human activity in space.· Searching for these resources is an ac­tivity which can be carried out at a very modest level, yet could yield enormous benefits.

A Pattern of Success

SSI is now enjoying the results of over a decade of focused research. Thanks to the Institute’s work and the communication of our research results to such bodies as the Presi­dent’s National Commission on Space, the NASA Office of Exploration, and the Na­tional Space Council, there is now widespread interest in the use of lunar resources for space activity.

In addition, SSI has preserved the con­cept of solar power satellites and enhanced and expanded on the original concept by produc­ing designs of solar power satellites which could be constructed from lunar materials. For nearly a decade, SSI was the sole support of this concept in the United States, although work in this area continued in Europe, Japan, and the Soviet Union. Thanks to SSI’s ac­tivities, there is a growing interest in this im­portant clean energy source for our planet.

SSI’s research has also helped to provide a policy basis for such activities as the use of Space Shuttle external tanks in Earth orbit. Our research in that area helped to bring about space policy changes which have led to agree­ments between NASA and private companies for the use of these important resources in Earth orbit.

A Bias Towards Action

Wherever possible, SSI strives to produce actual hardware proofs of concept to demon­strate our research ideas. Our first major pro­ject was the construction of prototype mass drivers, which clearly showed the feasibility of such devices. When, in the initial days of space industrialization concepts, there was doubt about the practicality of processing lunar resources, we conducted bench chemistry demonstrations of each of the unknown pro­cess steps. By constructing simple time-delay units, SSI is exploding the myth that lunar teleoperations are extremely difficult. By doing these actual hardware projects, we have learned that effective demonstrations of this type are vastly more powerful than presenta­tions of concepts, even those well-founded in existing technologies. SSI has clearly shown a preference for trying, testing, and doing, which has served us well throughout the history of our research.

You Make SSI Research Possible

The research projects of the Space Studies Institute are possible only due to the generous contributions of our members and supporters. Thanks to your help we have made enormous progress in proving that space resources can be harvested for the benefit of all humanity. With your continued support we will realize the vision of The High Frontier.

The purpose of the SSI research timescale is to provide a snapshot of the Institute’s past and present research initiatives. This brief ar­ticle summarizes SSI’s activities over the past

Gregg Maryniak




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.

Earth-Sun Trojan Asteroids

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 Earth­Sun Trojan asteroids for his doctoral thesis at Princeton University.

Lunar Polar Probe

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.”

Lunar Prospector

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 will carry a NASA-supplied gamma-ray spec­trometer capable of sensing hydrogen and other elements from low-lunar orbit and will also provide gravity and magnetic mapping during its one-year lunar mission.

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Lunar Sodium Search

Using ground-based spectroscopy, Francis G. Graham of Kent State University conducted a search for sodium vapor on the Moon.

Space Debris

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.

International Lunar Polar Orbiter

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 U niversite 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 are 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 will look 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.

Mass Driver I

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. Henry 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.

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Mass Driver II

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.

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Mass Driver III

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 III 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.

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Mass Driver Simulations

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, has also 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.

High Altitude Mass Driver Feasibility Study

SSI is conducting a feasibility study on the use of an aerostatically supported mass driver for terrestrial launch of bulk payloads.

Advanced Mass Driver Studies

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.


HF-Acid Leach Process 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.

Silicon Coatings as a By-Product of Lunar Electrolysis

This project, conducted by Dr. Rudolf Keller of EMEC, is exploring the possibility of producing silicon materials on substrates as a by-product of molten salt electrolysis of lunar soil.

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Magma Electrolysis Project

Under joint funding from the Space Studies Institute and the University of Arizona, Dr. Keller is further refining lunar electrolysis techniques for the production of oxygen and other materials using technologies developed in the electrochemical industry.

Lunar Simulant Project

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 lunar programs and is proving valuable to the Institute’s present lunar pro­cessing initiatives.



SSI is also studying relatively simple physical processing techniques for the produc­tion of construction materials and other in­dustrial feedstocks for near-term use.

Glass/Glass Composites

Brandt Goldsworthy has demonstrated the production of glass fibers and glass matrix materials from lunar simulant. The combina­
tion 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.

Solar Powered Glass Pilot Plant

The Space Studies Institute has entered into a joint project with McDonnell Douglas Corporation and 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 will be the first large-scale demonstration of lunar processing techniques.

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Magnetic Beneficiation of Lunar Soil

The Space Studies Institute has 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.

Iron as a By-Product of Ilmenite Reduction

A team of researchers at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute has demonstrated techni­ques for recovering iron as a by-product of the hydrogen reduction of ilmenite to produce lunar oxygen.

Fused Soil Products for Space Construction

Architect Nader Khalili of the Geltaftan Foundation and Senior Associate Joseph Ken­nedy have 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.

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External Tank Study

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 has been extensively cited and used as one foundation for the present policy permitting the use of Shuttle external tanks for private space projects.

External Tank CAD Project

A number of SSI Senior Associates and members have developed CAD (computed aided design) drawings of external tank com­ponents for use in space habitat and platform design.

ET Propellant Scavenging Workshop

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.

External Tank Orbital Processing Facility

The Space Studies Institute is now en­gaged in a cooperative venture with a group at the Air Force Institute of Technology on the system design of a facility which can process spent external tanks into f eedstocks for space construction.

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Lunar Mining Simulation

The Institute has constructed a lunar min­ing simulation tested and demonstrated dragline hardware and surface’ mining techniques.

ISU Lunar Base Study

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.

Lunar Mining Contest

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.

Orbital Transfer Vehicles

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.

Lunar Teleoperations Demonstrations

SSI’s Lunar Teleoperations group has conducted a series of teleoperations demon­strations which enable 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.

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Lunar Excavation Experiments

The Space Studies Institute and Univer­sity of Maryland have proposed a series of ex­periments to determine appropriate tools for lunar surface and lunar subsurface mining ac­tivity. These experiments take advantage of simulants and 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. SSl continues to press for research in artificial gravity, closed­cycle life support, and other critical space colony technologies. In addition, we have engaged in a number of related projects, detailed below.

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Human Rotation Tolerance

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.

Partial Gravity Facility Feasibility

This ongoing project assesses the possi­bility of conducting small experiments in space with artificial gravity, including such govern­ment programs as LifeSat.

Habitat Interior Design

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 the principal 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.

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Solar Power Satellites from Lunar Materials

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.

Sterling Cycle Engines

In addition to photovoltaic techniques for converting solar power into electricity, SSI has ex­amined the use of sterling cycle engines for this purpose.

Beamed Power for Space Propulsion

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.

SPS from Early Space Resources

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 nonterrestrial materials, including Space Shuttle external tanks and lunar oxygen, glass, and iron .

Space Power Demonstration Project

The Space Studies Institute and Dr. Peter E. Glaser of the Arthur D. Little Corporation are jointly investigating the possibility of a space pur­pose of the program is to serve as an educational model to enable researchers and students to see the effects of changes in transportation, energy re­quirements for various processes, and other key parameters.

“Low-Profile” Study

Following the major NASA summer power demonstration project for International Space Year, which would transmit energy from one spacecraft to another.



Systems studies provide the broad over­view which holds the various elements of SSI’s research together. These studies define the critical path 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.

Space Resources Computer Model

Work is continuing on a program con­taining the essential parameters for space resource utilization and transportation. 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.

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“New Routes” Study

In 1980, SSI conducted a major systems study which 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 which can grow with a doubling time of 90 days using partial self-replication techniques.

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“First Steps” Study

In 1988, the Institute conducted its third major systems study which, in particular, 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 are scheduled to be published by the Lunar and Planetary Institute as a paper entitled “First Steps to Space Manufacturing.”

SSI Research 1990 image 23 Pat Rawlings


SSI’s Space Manufacturing Conferences

Since 1974, SSI has sponsored nine Con­ferences on Space Manufacturing at Princeton University. These conferences serve to provide an outlet for publication of the work con­ducted by SSI’s principal investigators, as well inform the space community of progress in nonterrestrial materials research. Pro­ceedings of the conferences have been pub­lished by the AIAA (see side bar on page 8) and American Astronautical Society. These volumes provide the principal literature on the use of space resources for space construction and industry.

SSI Co-Sponsored Conferences

The Institute regularly co-sponsors technical and educational conferences where appropriate. Examples include the American Society of Civil Engineers, Space ’88 and Space ’90 Conferences, the Lunar and Plane­tary lnstitute’s Lunar Bases and Space Ac­tivities of the 21st Century Conference, the IAF Space Power Conference, and the Space Development Conference series. In addition, SSI researchers and staff regularly attend the International Astronautical Federation’s an­nual conferences.

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Energia Conference

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 on the capabilities of the Energia and its subsystems.

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Research Matrix and Data Base

A team of SSI volunteers is experimen­ting with an information matrix/database to enable researchers to locate work in a variety of research subjects and career and interest areas.


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If you are interested in finding out more about SSI’s research, there are several concrete steps which you can take right now. The first is to join SSI if you are not already a supporter of the Institute. You will receive SSI’s bi­monthly Update, keeping you abreast of developments in our work. In addition, SSI Senior Associates receive further in­formation in special mailings from Dr. O’Neill, the founder of the Institute, and executive vice president, Gregg Maryniak.

One of the most useful sources of in­formation on the Institute’s work, and related work in the field of space manufacturing from nonterrestrial resources, is the proceedings of the SSI Princeton University Conferences on Space Manufacturing. (See side bar.)

Another very useful tool is the journal “Space Power.” This quarterly journal, published in cooperation with the Sunsat Energy Council and edited by an SSI Senior Associate, is becoming a critical, ongoing source of information on space development and space resources (see side bar). The Institute also has a host of specific research reports and video and slide shows. A list is available by sending a business-sized self-addressed, stamped envelope to the Space Studies Institute.


The High Frontier

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SSI Press has republished The High Frontier by Dr. Gerard K. O’Neill. The new edition contains a Preface by Astronaut Kath­leen Sullivan, an updated Introduction and final chapter by Dr. O’Neill, new cover art by Pat Rawlings and cover design by Peter Thorpe. The High Frontier was originally published in 1976 and won the Phi Beta Kappa Science Book of the Year Award in 1977. It is widely recognized as the first book to describe space colonies, space manufacturing, and the opening of the High Frontier of space.

The High Frontier is published by SSI Press, 327 pp., trade paperback, ISBN 0-9622379-0-6, available from SSI Press


SPACE POWER: Resources, Manufacturing and Development

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is a quarterly international journal for the presentation, discussion and analysis of advanced concepts, initial treatments and ground-breaking basic research on the tech­nical, economic and societal aspects of: large­scale, space-based solar power; space resource utilization; space manufacturing; and other areas related to the development and use of space for the benefit of humanity.

To order a subscription please send a check ($70.00 SSI members, $240.00 non-SSI members) to: SSI.


SSI/Princeton Conference on Space Manufacturing Proceedings
The Space Manufacturing series is the perfect reference work for all aspects of space studies.

Topics include: External Tanks and Space Habitats, Nonterrestrial Resources, Space Manufactur­ing and Space Power, International and Economic Considerations, Space Biospheres, Space Transportation, Lunar Bases and Biomedical Considerations.

• Volume 1 (1974-1975 Conferences) AIAA & SSI Members $19.50

• Volume 2 (1977 Conference) Not available

• Volume 3 (1979 Conference) AIAA & SSI Members $30.00 Nonmembers $37.50

• Volume 4 (1981 Conference) AIAA & SSI Members $30.00 Nonmembers $37.50

• Volume 5 (1985 Conference) AIAA & SSI Members $29.50 Nonmembers $49.50

• Volume 6 (1987 Conference) AIAA & SSI Members $39.50 Nonmembers $69.50

• Space Manufacturing 1983, Volume 53, Advances in the Astronautical Sciences, AAS, Univelt

[[librarian note: The items, prices and addresses on this page are as they were in the original printed newsletter and are reproduced for historical reasons. For SSI membership and contributions to SSI Research projects today, please see this page]]

©space studies institute

NEXT: 1990 July-August

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Technology for Human Space Settlement