All posts by Edward Wright

Jeff Bezos on O’Neill Cylinders

Where does Jeff Bezos foresee putting space colonists? Inside O’Neill cylinders

“SpaceX’s Elon Musk wants to settle humans on Mars. Others talk about a Moon Village. But Seattle billionaire Jeff Bezos has a different kind of off-Earth home in mind when he talks about having millions of people living and working in space.

“His long-range vision focuses on a decades-old concept for huge artificial habitats that are best known today as O’Neill cylinders.”

— Alan Boyle

SSI 50: The Space Settlement Enterprise

Bernal Sphere

Update: Super Early Bird tickets are sold out! Early Bird tickets are still available. Act now to get the best price.

Update 2: Please note new dates, September 9-10

The Space Studies Institute (SSI) is pleased to announce the date and location for its 2019 conference. Make your plans now to attend SSI 50: The Space Settlement Enterprise September 9 and 10 July 15 and 16 at the renowned Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington.

Tickets are on sale now at, with a limited number of Early Bird and Super Early Bird tickets at greatly discounted prices. As soon as those tickets sell out, prices will go up.

The conference is timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar mission, which launched from Kennedy Space Center on July 16, 1969.

2019 also marks the 50th anniversary of the “High Frontier” concept created by Princeton physics professor and SSI founder Gerard O’Neill. As NASA was preparing for the Moon landing, Professor O’Neill asked an intriguing question: “Is the surface of a planet the best place for an expanding technological civilization?”

After careful study and consideration, O’Neill came to a remarkable conclusion: It was possible to build large space habitats, each housing more than a million people, using materials readily available from the Moon or asteroids. A fleet of such habitats could house more people than are currently living on the surface of the Earth.

As a first step, O’Neill conceived a smaller habitat, called Island One, capable of housing 10,000 people. The residents of the Island One habitat could build solar power stations that would supply clean electrical power to the surface of the Earth.

Prof. O’Neill authored a best-selling book, The High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space, and founded the Space Studies Institute to promote and develop his High Frontier vision.

Now SSI is preparing for a dramatic reboot of Professor O’Neill’s research program. The SSI 50 conference marks the start of a multi-year effort to reevaluate the High Frontier vision in light of new technology and the emerging commercial space industry.

SSI 50: The Space Settlement Enterprise will be an exciting two-day event featuring some of the space industry’s top thinkers. Nestled alongside history-making exhibits, experts will seek to identify the technological and economic obstacles to space settlement. Panel discussions will cover six major areas:

  • Habitats and Facilities: What do we want to build?
  • Construction: How do we build it?
  • Resources: Where and how do we get the materials?
  • Transport: How do we get there?
  • Life in Space: How do we survive there?
  • Economics: How do we pay for it?

We have structured the event to allow plenty of time for questions and audience interaction. The questions developed at this conference will inform SSI’s research programs over the next few years.

In addition, we’ve arranged for two gourmet luncheons catered by McCormick and Schmick’s. These luncheons will provide a great opportunity for networking and informal discussion of the day’s topics. Luncheon tickets are limited. We strongly recommend that conference attendees take advantage of the luncheon option, but the museum has two excellent cafes that are available if luncheon tickets sell out.

We look forward to seeing you in Seattle.

Space Access 2019

Some people have expressed surprise that the proposed agenda for SSI’s 2019 conference does not include a strong focus on space transportation, which has been one of the primary obstacles to space settlement up to now.

Some have speculated that SSI considers space transportation to be a solved problem, thanks to companies such as Blue Origin and SpaceX. Nothing could be further from the truth. Even if one assumes that Blue Origin and SpaceX will be successful in solving the low-cost Earth-to-orbit problem (which is still not guaranteed), there are still many challenges involving low-cost operations in cis-lunar space and beyond.

The reason we’re not discussing these problems at our conference is because they’re being addressed elsewhere. The Space Access Society, whose annual conference has been on sabbatical for the past couple of years, has announced that their conference will resume in 2019.

Space Access 2019 will be held at the Fremont Marriott Silicon Valley on April 18-21. The Space Access Society is working with a new team from the Bay Area’s Experimental Rocket Propulsion Society to make the conference better than ever.

Preliminary information and signup are available at

We encourage anyone who’s interested in the transportation side of the space-settlement equation  to sign up and attend Space Access 2019, which will be a perfect complement to the Space Studies Institute conference later in the year.

Looking Ahead to 2019

The Space Studies Institute has been hard at work preparing for the new year. 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of Professor Gerard K. O’Neill’s High Frontier vision and the start of a new era for SSI. We’re ready for it.

We’re pleased to say that we now have a firm date for the Space Studies Institute 2019 Conference and a great venue. Look for an announcement shortly after the first of the year. This conference will have a new format and new theme, which marks the start of multi-year effort to identify the barriers to space settlement and develop viable solutions.

The Space Studies Institute continues to focus on O’Neill’s goal of opening up space for settlement by large numbers of people. To achieve this goal, we must address the economic barriers to space settlement as well as the technological. The original High Frontier concept relied on space solar power as an economic driver. Unfortunately, the space solar power industry has so far failed to develop. In retrospect, it was a mistake to base the concept on a single revenue driver. Multiple revenue streams are needed. SSI will be taking a fresh look at space solar power, but we will also be looking at other potential revenue sources.

The larger space community is currently focused on government contracting. While NASA contracting is a viable strategy for startups such as SpaceX, NASA alone cannot provide the stable funding that is needed for large-scale space settlement. The history of frontier settlement on Earth shows that cities arise where there is a commercial opportunity or, more rarely, military need. Examples of cities arising from government science outposts are notably lacking. We must look to markets beyond NASA.

The large space settlements envisioned by Professor O’Neill, housing thousands of people, will not be built overnight. They will almost certainly be preceded by a series of smaller habitats, which will gradually increase in size and complexity over time. To date, however, we do not have even a single commercial habitat in space. We must give thought to the intermediate steps between the International Space Station, with its six-person crew, and O’Neill’s Island One. What will those intermediate stations, or proto-settlements, look like? Who will build them, and how will they pay for themselves?

We need to take a close look at advanced space construction techniques and extraterrestrial resources, based on the latest data from recent missions and current research. We should open our minds to new approaches. For example, there is enough space debris in Earth orbit to build a space station six times the size of ISS, and it’s already in the form of highly refined aerospace-grade alloys, not raw ore. Could recycling this material be the first step in developing extraterrestrial resources?

There are also formidable challenges in life support and human physiology factors. We need to learn how to create a functioning farm ecology in space. We need to better understand the limits of human tolerance for partial gravity and cosmic radiation. And we need to develop and prove out better forms of radiation protection.

Finally, we must consider the best location (or, more likely, locations) for large-scale space settlement. Professor O’Neill made powerful arguments for the Lagrangian libration points, 60 degrees before and behind the Moon, but we need to consider all alternatives in light of current knowledge: Everything from Low Earth Orbit to the asteroid belt. And, then, we will look beyond, to the stars. SSI is already working on advanced propulsion, with support from the NASA Institute of Advanced Concepts, that may take us to the stars. Or perhaps we’ll take the slow route, hopping from one interstellar object to the next, establishing outposts of human civilization as we go.

There are a lot of questions that need to be addressed over the next few years. We hope you’ll join SSI at our 2019 Conference to help us find the answers.