SSI Newsletters: Q2 1981

Space Studies Institute Newsletter Q2

Space Studies Institute
195 Nassau Street
P.O. Box 82
Princeton, NJ 08540
[[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]]


With this issue we are experimenting with a new title and format, based on ideas and suggestions from a number of SSI Subscribers. We will appreciate comments about it.

Space Studies Institute


Recently I was asked by the Los Angeles Times to write an article on the implications of the successful first flight of the Space Shuttle. That article appears below, slightly edited. It gives, in non-technical language, my views on the great potential the Shuttle had, and the importance of its continued use and support.

For nearly a decade, until the Shuttle orbited in April of this year, America lacked a manned spaceflight capability.  In those barren years other nations acquired their own space expertise. The U.S.S.R. built a space-station and made its resupply and crew changes routine. Soviet cosmonauts broke all records for duration of manned spaceflight. Japan, whose larger satellites had been launched by U.S. rockets, built new rockets of its own and decided to orbit most of its future satellites on such “made in Japan” launch vehicles. Even the mainland Chinese, for all their preoccupation with industrial development and the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution, developed a sophisticated, high-quality rocket. They called it the “Long March,” and released photographs of Chinese astronauts in training. Western Europe, led by France and West Germany, developed the Ariane rocket, and turned over its operational management to a private company, Arianespace. That firm will compete head-on with the Shuttle for the business of launching satellites. An upgraded Ariane safe enough to carry passengers is already under study and is likely to fly before this decade is out.

Where does that leave the United States? We abandoned a decade ago the tried and true throwaway rockets that newcomers to the space age are now using so successfully. Instead we gambled on a higher level of technology — the Shuttle, a partially reusable vehicle capable of blasting its way up to orbit as a rocket and then returning as a glider.

The complexity of the Shuttle is forced by its generality, its reusability and its “download” capability. It will hold, going up to orbit or returning, anything that can be stuffed into a 15 by 60 foot cargo bay. Though the 29 tons of payload it can lift to orbit is only a quarter of the load the old Saturn V’s could carry, the Shuttle can return about 15 tons gently to the Earth, something the throwaway rockets could never do. True, many of the justifications given during the past decade for that download capability are unconvincing. The “recovery of satellites from orbit for repair” will seldom be worthwhile. Most economically important satellites work at geosynchronous altitude, 22,000 miles out, in 24-hour orbits forty times higher than the Shuttle can reach. And experience shows that satellites generally become obsolete before they wear out. The “processing of materials in low orbit in micro­gravity” may teach us a great deal, but it can compete economically only for that tiny fraction of the world’s market that deals in goods saleable at thousands of dollars a pound. So what’s left? The most important cargo of all –people. In the long run, the Shuttle should find its greatest use as a passenger vehicle, carrying to and from orbit from 60 to 150 or more people on each flight.

The Shuttle is rich in what aerospace engineers fondly call “growth capability.”At almost no cost, the Shuttle could bring to orbit on each flight another of its huge external tanks, heavier than its internal payload. Those tanks, saved rather than burning up uselessly, Skylab-like, in the atmosphere, could be the building blocks of a modular space station many times larger than the U.S.S.R.’s orbital outpost. The Shuttle’s booster rockets, that now burn an expensive, dirty solid rocket fuel can be replaced by engines that burn clean, relatively cheap liquids. With those changes, the practical experience gained from many flights, and the shift of management to a private firm, probably an airline, the Shuttle’s operating costs per ton of useful weight lifted will go down. The price of a round-trip ticket to orbit a decade or two from now should then be no more than what an enthusiastic young man or woman could accumulate by five or ten years of saving and investment. Orbital hotels in the 1990’s could give the unique experience of zero gravity and an astronaut’s breathtaking views of our planet to tens of thousands of people every year.

Even before a vacation in orbit becomes commonplace the really significant economic use of the space resources can begin. It will depend not on the chancy business of competition in the pharmaceutical or semi-conductor trades, but on two enduring realities of space economics. Outside the shadow of the Earth, solar energy is an intense, reliable full-time resource. And for every ton of material that goes into building satellites for those heights, the energy cost of lift from the Earth will always be 22 times greater than from the Moon’s much shallower gravity well. Nothing will ever repeal those eternal facts of nature. To reach the heights of the 24-hour orbit, bathed in permanent sun­1ight, Shuttle cargo will have to be transferred in low orbit to another, smaller rocket, burning hydrogen and oxygen. Until nonterrestrial sources of oxygen are developed, those liquid propellants will have to be hoisted to orbit as part of the Shuttle’s payload. In consequence, the transportation costs to high orbit for a ton of equipment, or fuel, or cosmic-ray shielding will equal the price of nine tons of pure silver. So the first saleable product from the High Frontier may well be the simplest -­ raw lunar soil, for shielding manned space stations from cosmic rays. The second may be almost as general — liquid oxygen, for use as rocket propellant. Oxygen is the most abundant element on the Moon, and it is the gasoline of space, being 85% of what every ordinary rocket burns.

At present, the practical hardware research to make use of the lunar resources, and so to save many billions of dollars in the cost of the U.S. space program, is being funded entirely by individual citizens’ voluntary gifts to a non-profit foundation, the Space Studies Institute (SSI), based in Princeton, N.J. SSI’s grants support the construction of a pilot model magnetic”mass-driver” catapult. A mass-driver built on Earth, lifted to orbit by the Shuttle and assembled on the Moon could run on solar power and catapult lunar material to a precise point in space, at less than a hundredth the cost of lifting an equal mass from the Earth.

Early in 1981 SSI made its largest research grant so far, to a consortium of Rockwell International and the University of California. The grant supports research to measure the chemical reactions that can separate lunar materials into pure oxygen, silicon and metals. It may take several years of research, funded through the power of individual donors’ idealism, to prove by hardware tests that resources beyond Earth’s biosphere can be used for human benefit. Then a nation, a group of nations, or a venture capital consortium can begin an action program, costing no more than the Alaska pipeline and requiring only 25 Shuttle flights. Such a program could achieve within five years the capability of producing annually more than its entire investment in sales of products for high orbit. Graduating beyond the extraction of oxygen from lunar soils, solar powered industries in high orbit may well construct out of lunar materials solar power satellites. Each will supply as much continuous electricity to our power lines on Earth as ten nuclear power plants. The Shuttle will lift into orbit the machinery of those industries, and it will ferry the workers of those industries back and forth from Earth just as helicopters now ferry oil rig workers over our coastal waters.

The Shuttle flights, carrying their precious cargoes of men and women and of the seeds for rapidly growing industries founded on lunar materials and solar energy, will have a significance then at least as great as the voyages of the Mayflower and her sister ships. Those Shuttle flights can open, in our lifetime, a frontier of abundance even greater than was the North America of the seventeenth century. All who take part in it have reason indeed to be proud of their role in opening that new frontier.

Gerard K. O’Neill
President, SSI
* * *


The Fifth Princeton Conference on Space Manufacturing was held May 18-21, 1981. This latest in the biennial series was co-sponsored by Princeton University, the Space Studies Institute and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (which will publish the proceedings in the autumn of 1981). This year we welcomed as Associate Sponsors the National Space Institute and OMNI Magazine.

Many who were there have commented that this year’s conference was the best one yet. The AIAA has asked Dr. O’Neill to write a summary of the Conference and that summary will first appear in the next issue of SSI UPDATE.



The extraction of oxygen, high purity silicon, and such metals as iron, aluminum and titanium from lunar soils has economic analogs to the problem of extracting cobalt, nickel and manganese from the manganese nodules of the ocean floor. In both cases the reservoir of material available is very large, and in both cases the opening of the new resources offers the promise of great savings in costs over conventional sources. In both cases the extraction requires the development of new techniques of mining, transport and the separation of elements out of compounds.

Some of the potential payoffs from the use of lunar materials are sketched in this issue’s PRESIDENT’S COLUMN. With SSI support, a number of workshops were held in the late 1970’s, which explored the most cost-effective ways of using lunar resources.

After several years of paper studies supported by NASA, there was general, though by no means unanimous, agreement that wet chemistry using hydrofluoric acid would be the most promising method of separation. Many of its steps had already been used in industries on the Earth, and it offered the possibility of operation at relatively low temperatures, where the life­time of the equipment could be expected to be long. However, such a system would require that special reagents brought from Earth be “recycled” very efficiently, rather than lost to the output streams of separated lunar elements.

As there was no governmental action to carry out actual experiments on chemical separation, in June of 1980 SSI invited proposals for direct hardware experimentation on the crucial steps of such a chemical extraction process. The resulting proposals were evaluated by an independent review team of experts brouqht in for the purpose, and on their recommendation SSI awarded a grant of $100,000 to a consortium of Rockwell International, in Downey, CA, and the California Space Institute, a division of the University of California system located in La Jolla, CA. The Rockwell investigation is led by Dr. R. Waldron. The first quarterly progress report on that research, submitted in June 1981, gives the results of experiments of the pyrolysis of ammonium cryolite, (NH4) Al F6, into Al F3 + NH3 +HF (hydrofluoric acid). Hydrofluoric acid is one of the critical recycling reagents in the overall process. The results look good so far, and this report as well as those which will follow it will be reviewed in detail by SSI.



The development of the test-bed ca11 ed “Mass-Driver Two” was carried out over the period 1977-81 under occasional NASA funding, with periodic boosts from SSI as necessary. The laboratory work and detail design were under the direction of Bill Snow. With the closeout of NASA funding of this work as of June 30, 1981, and with the advent of a newer, more efficient mass-driver design, the test program on Mass-Driver Two was completed and the machine has been decommissioned. The major accomplishments of the program on Mass-Driver Two were:

1) Successful demonstration of a drive-coil triggering system using the interruption of light beams by the moving “bucket” payload carrier.

2) Close agreement of measured accelerations with a computer simulation written by Scott Dunbar.

3) The development of a new, much simplified high power system for the recharging of capacitors of the mass­driver between successive drive-coil firings, and the successful testing of this recharge system.

Major contributions to this work were made by Joel Kubby, and substantial additional calculations and test data were provided by undergraduate projects carried out by a team of students, most recently H. Fockler and S. Leete.

The new-concept mass-driver, called the “Long-Wave Pull-Only” machine, has been explored by computer simulations and a number of test-bed experiments during the past few months. The insights gained by this work now permit the construction in a coil-by-coil fashion of the first stage of a full power mass-driver in the new design. The new machine will operate vertically and will be of relatively larqe calibre, with 16-inch drive coils and a bucket coil of 14.4-inch diameter. If it performs as calculated, it should produce almost four times the 500-gravity­maximum acceleration of Mass-Driver Two, and it will therefore be compact in the axial direction, being no more than a few inches high.



Everyone involved With SSI and its research programs altered schedules as necessary so as to maintain a maximum effort through the period of the May 1981 Princeton Conference. Now that the Conference is over there are several changes to announce:

Barbara Evans leaves SSI as of June, and is being replaced by April Whitt as of June 29th. Barbara contributed greatly to SSI during her several-year tour of duty here, and saw the Institute from a tiny operation carried out in a borrowed office of the Princeton Physics Department to a substantial operation with its own quarters, a staff of several people, a growing degree of computerization, and an annual research funding level several times larger than all of SSI’s original capitalization. Barbara made major contributions, for example, to both the 1979 and 1981 Conferences, to SSI’s informational documents, to the selection of SSI’s quarters at 195 Nassau Street in Princeton, and to all of SSI’s interactions with other agencies both public and private.  Nearly everyone who has dealt with SSI in recent years has had occasion to speak with Barbara, and is familiar with her enthusiasm, dedication and command of information regarding communication and the media. We at SSI wish her very well, and hope that she finds a position that doesn’t require, as SSI did, her spending nearly two hours per day conmuting from home!

April Whitt, who joins us as Executive Assistant, comes with a background of several years of experience at the Morehead Planetarium of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. While there, she developed a number of educational programs, taught courses, participated in the preparation of grant requests, and wrote many of the news releases of the Planetarium. Her experience will make her particularly valuable for the production of SSI UPDATE, and we are pleased that she approaches SSI’s computerization with enthusiasm, saying that she’s delighted to “get things in proper order, instead of working in the midst of scraps of paper,” which is what she’s used to.

Scott Dunbar, who had been given an NRC Fellowship as announced in a previous SSI Newsletter, has now taken up that Fellowship and will be working with Eugene Shoemaker and Eleanor Helin at CalTech/Mt. Palomar. He will participate in a continuing search for Earth­crossing asteroids and for the Earth­orbital asteroids which his Ph.D. thesis indicated are theoretically possible.

Joel Kubby, who joined us for a one­year breather after receiving his B.A. in Physics from Berkeley, was accepted at Cornell Graduate School in Physics several months ago, and will enter the Ph.D. program there as of this autumn.

Bill Snow, who has shouldered a heroic load as head of the mass-driver laboratory for the last several years under NASA contract, is leaving as of June 30th, with the closeout of that contract. Bill was responsible for the construction and for most of the detail design for Mass-Driver Two, and was particularly ingenious in finding “gold” in the form of useful components in surplus lists. Bill has acquired an encyclopedic knowledge in a number of areas related to electromagnetic accelerators, and we at SSI hope that he will be able to put that knowledge to good use in his next position. Bill is being replaced by Bob Muratore, on a short term basis before Bob re-enters graduate school.

Bob Muratore has been a Design Engineer at Hughes Aircraft and a graduate student in Physics at Princeton. Bob contributed to the mass-driver project as a volunteer, and comes to us with both theoretical and practical knowledge in electromagnetics. He is in charge of the early stages of construction on Mass-Driver Three, the new large-calibre Long-Wave Pull-Only machine described earlier.

Naveed lftikhar, an undergraduate in Mechanical Engineering at Princeton, is working as Bob Muratore’s assistant. Visitors who recall the pleasing clutter of our laboratory in the past will find an astonishing change when they next visit: Bob and Naveed like to run a “tight ship,” and the mass-driver laboratory under Bob’s direction is almost as clear and spick-and-span as a “clean room.”

Since our last Newsletter SSI has taken on another part-time assistant, Bettie Greber, who takes care of SSI’s bookkeeping and is starting to learn the computerized system of Senior Associate record-keeping that Tasha O’Neill and Barbara Faughnan have become familiar with. Bettie and Barbara will need that familiarization as the SSI Subscriber records are computerized.

Dr. Richard Woodbridge III, a Princeton graduate and retired Vice-President of the New York Life Insurance Company, is carrying out in an excellent way new responsibilities as SSI’s Executive Vice-President. Dr. Woodbridge is at SSI much of the time, though he hopes to be replaced eventually by a salaried staff member with similar duties.



We have a long-term job opportun1ty ln the position of Research Assistant or Research Associate (depending on degree qualifications) as head of the Mass-Driver Laboratory in the Princeton University Physics Department. The person selected will serve under the direction of Dr. 0’Nei11 and will have the continuing day-to-day responsibility for detailed design, construction and testing for Mass-Driver Three. We are looking for someone who is results-oriented, with  a good working knowledge of electromagnetics, strong laboratory and shop skills, and the ability to find the simplest solutions to design problems. The successful candidate should be someone who can translate ideas into working hardware quickly, and develop a successful mass-driver machine by a rapid, iterative interaction  between theoretical design and hardware tests. The candidate chosen will participate in the choice of assistants, with the full strength of the laboratory being seen as three people, working under Dr. O’Neill’s overall direction.


NEW BOOK “2081”:

For the past four years,Dr. O’Neill has been working on a new book, 2081–A Hopeful View of the Human Future. It was published in May by Simon and Schuster, at $13.95, and should be available in most bookstores. 2081 uses scientific and historical evidence, together with Dr. O’Neill’s projections of realistic technology, to predict the major changes of the next 100 years as they affect Planet Earth and its peoples. Dr. O’Neill selects five “Drivers of Change”: computers, automation, space colonies, energy and communications, as the technologies whose evolution over the next century will affect the prospects for humanity. Much of the illustrated book is a narrative, by a visitor to the Earth of 2081 from a colony in an orbit beyond Pluto, a colony established by Quakers on the principles of non-violence and freedom from weapons. Dr. O’Neill concludes that, because of space colonies and the other four Drivers of Change, the world of 2081, while not free of risk, will offer more opportunity to most human beings than it does today. Reviews of 2081 follow:

Los Angeles Times: “A clear, reasonable, and astonishing view of the possible … Its structure is orderly and the writing always clear and often exciting … O’Neill’s meld of hard science and high inspiration compounds into a powerful call, to be clearly and widely heard.”

Dallas Times-Herald: “A sunny oasis in the dark era of gloom…even his boldest predictions … are based on current science and technology …O’Neill is a scientist with a poet’s vision.”

Buckminster Fuller: “Gerard O’Neill’s 2081 is a truly scientific forecast. It is beautifully written and, thanks to God, presents a humanely desirable prospect.”

2081 was excerpted for serialization in the May and June 1981 issues of OMNI magazine. It is a primary selection for the new Book-of-the-Month Science Book Club, and an alternate for the regular Book-of-the-Month. The Commonwealth edition of the book will be pub­lished by Jonathan Cape Ltd. in London this September, and the Japanese translation by PHP Foundation will be at about the same time.

You may have heard or seen Dr. O’Neill on one of many radio and television interviews about 2081 this June, as he made a nationwide author tour sponsored by Simon and Schuster. But please don’t be upset if he failed to contact you when in your city! Usually his schedules were given to him as he boarded a plane, and they were so tightly scheduled as to leave him no free time.

Dr. O’Neill will write an autograph for any SSI Subscriber who would like an autographed copy of 2081. Please send the specific bookstore receipt for the book, together with $1 .00 for handling and postage, to SSI. An autograph will be returned to you on a special SSI label suitable for the title page. We think that makes more sense than shipping a hard-bound book through the mails and risking its damage.



Or. O’Neill’s lectures already scheduled for the fall of 1981 are:

September 23 -University of Colorado at Boulder.

September 24 -Angelo State University, San Angelo, Texas.

October 7 -University of Southwestern Louisiana in Lafayette.

October 26 -American Council of Insurance Executives, Williamsburg, Virginia.

November 10-11 -Central College in Pella, Iowa.

November 12 -Montana State University in Bozeman.

November 17 -University of California at Irvine.



In response to a number of requests, SSI is establishing a program of local chapters. These may be formed as new organizations, or a pre-existing club may choose to add the identification “Local Chapter of the Space Studies Institute” to its existing title. By so doing, any such local chapter gains the right to add to its membership promotional efforts the statement that its dues are used in part to support the research activities of SSI, aimed toward the use of space resources for human benefit. To obtain detailed info on this opportunity, an organization should address an inquiry to:

Space Studies Institute
SSI Local Chapter Program
P.O. Box 82 Princeton, NJ 08540
[[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]]



We at SSI regret the passing on June 3, 1981 of Or. Carleton S. Coon, a member of SSI’s Senior Advisory Board. His long and distinguished career in anthropology had included the writing of such classic works as The Hunting Peoples and The Story of Man.



We welcome as a new member of SSI’s Senior Advisory Board Dr. Yash Pal, United Nations High Com-issioner for the 1982 World U.N. Conference on Outer Space. We also welcome to SSI’s Board of Trustees Mr. Maxie Anderson, President, Ranchers’ Exploration and Development Corporation. In addition to his mining, engineering and investment activities, Mr. Anderson has set a number of records as a balloonist, being one of the first three men to cross the Atlantic Ocean and the first to cross the U.S., by balloon.



Now that SSI has assumed the full burden of both the Chemical Processing research and of the Mass-Driver research with its exciting goal of the new high-acceleration, high-efficiency mass-driver machine, SSI’s financial resources will be heavily strained during the next year. We urge you to spread the word about this unique organization to your friends, and to contribute to the limit with which you can feel secure. Remember, SSI is now, in the absence of any approved governmental program for the use of nonterrestrial resources, the only organization that supports basic and applied scientific research aimed toward space colonies and the return of wealth from space for the good of all humankind. The donations you make to the Institute may be the best possible investment to insure an open future for humanity.

–SSI Staff and Volunteers



In response to requests from Subscribers for an easy-to-reproduce SSI brochure, we have developed a letter-sized black and white version suitable for most copiers. Upon receipt of a SASE, we’ll be happy to send the brochure.  Our original brochure is still available in lots of 100, but due to rising postage and packing costs the fee has increased. To order 100 brochures, send a check or money order for $20.00 to

SSI Brochures, P.O. Box 82, Princeton, NJ 08540.
Thank you again to all our Subscribers for your continued support.
Chicago Society for Space Settlement is continuing its post-production work on the videotape filmed at the Fifth Princeton/AIAA/SSI Conference on Space Manufacturing. To help raise earmarked funds for the Space Studies Institute, please send your check (any amount is welcome!) payable to SSI, to: CSSS, Chicago, Illinois 60101.

CSSS President Gregg Maryniak informed us that there is enough footage to produce a series of tapes, if the monetary support is continued.

©space studies institute

Next: 1981 Q3

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Technology for Human Space Settlement