About SSI

The Vision

Professor Gerard K. O’Neill founded the Space Studies Institute (SSI) in 1977 with the hope of opening the vast wealth of space to humanity.

The Institute

The Institute’s mission is to open the energy and material resources of space for human settlement within our lifetime.

SSI’s first commitment is to complete the missing technological links to make possible the productive use of the abundant resources in space.

Charter of the Space Studies Institute

The Space Studies Institute is a non-profit 501 (c) (3) organization founded by Gerard O’Neill in 1977 exclusively for charitable, scientific, literary and educational purposes. Our goals are to conduct and support theoretical and experimental research related to the knowledge, understanding and use of energy and material resources in space for the improvement of the human condition. SSI will achieve these goals by engaging in research itself and by funding and otherwise supporting research and related educational activities at selected colleges, universities and other scientific institutions.

We also undertake to educate and inform the public of the possibilities of improving the environment and solving the world’s energy problems through the use of energy and material resources found in space. SSI maintains an extensive library of materials related to the development of resources in space that are available to researchers and members of the public by appointment. We also sponsor public lectures, educational, technical and scientific conferences and the publication of technical and popular articles, books and other public media.

SSI’s Programs

Transport Mechanisms

SSI has sponsored research on several transport mechanisms needed for the development of space. SSI’s first research program was to develop the Mass-Driver, an electromagnetic accelerator which could be used to move raw lunar material efficiently and economically to high-Earth orbit for processing. SSI funded the work on Mass-Drivers II and Ill which were advanced models of a concept originally developed at MIT under the direction of Drs. Henry Kolm and Gerard O’Neill.

The Mass-Driver program demonstrated sufficient power to launch baseball-sized modules of lunar material into useful orbit. A Mass-Driver can also be used as a reaction engine and could thus be used for moving asteroids to useful locations.

An Orbital Transfer Vehicle (OTV) will be an important component of the transportation requirements of the space manufacturing system. SSI research studies examined the long lead items required for OTV development with a particular eye toward vehicles capable of transporting people and materials from low-Earth orbit to lunar orbit.

SSI also sponsored studies of a number of alternative propulsion systems, such as laser or microwave beamed energy vehicles.

Materials Processing and Production

SSI is a leader in the area of chemically separating and refining lunar materials. The Institute developed a number of techniques to separate lunar soil into its constituent elements, including a process called beneficiation, in which useful materials are produced from lunar soil without the use of chemical reagents or consumable electrodes. The Institute also contributed to the development of a class of materials known as glass-glass composites. These materials are composites in which both the fiber and the matrix are made from components of fused lunar soil. These materials show great promise for providing large quantities of structural materials for space construction without the need for traditional chemical processing.

Material Sources

Since the availability of materials in space is crucial, SSI sponsored searches for Earth-Sun Trojan Asteroids and developed proposals for the retrieval and mining of near asteroids. SSI also funded a design study for the Lunar Polar Probe (later renamed Lunar Prospector), a small probe which scanned the Moon from a polar orbit, searching for water and other useful volatiles. Scientists had suggested that ice and other volatiles might be trapped near the poles. In addition, the probe helped fill major gaps in knowledge of chemical abundances on the Moon’s surface. SSI also sponsored studies to examine uses of the Shuttle External Tank as a source of raw and structural material for space stations, platforms, or habitats.

‘Island One’ habitat // Habitats and Beyond

Larger structures such as space habitats and solar power satellites were of prime interest to SSI. Dr O’Neill pioneered design studies of the large, 10,000 person habitat Island One. This structure, and initially smaller designs, could be constructed in situ from lunar materials. SSI sponsored much research examining all aspects of these designs, including study of the smallest possible habitats capable of supplying simulated gravity adequate for human needs.

The production of solar power satellites in space is likely to be the basis for the first commercially feasible space program. SSI sponsored a study which established that the most economical way to construct an SPS is to use lunar materials. The SSI study determined that more than 98% of the mass needed tor each SPS could be obtained from the Moon.

The High Frontier