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]]
VOLUME VIII ISSUE 2
SECOND QUARTER 1982
This issue’s Column Is the second half of Dr. O’Neill’s article, “Bringing Wealth from Space.” The first half appeared In the First Quarter 1982 issue of UPDATE.
The largest foreseeable products for space industry in the next decades are solar power satellites, to supply energy for us here on Earth. A power satellite would be located in geosynchronous (24-hour) orbit above the equator, permanently on a direct line of sight to the same half of the Earth’s Surface. It would convert the intense, nearly full-time sunlight of high orbital space to low-density microwave radio waves, and send them to a receiving antenna several miles in diameter on the Earth. Environmentally the solar power satellite appears to be a very attractive long term energy source. Its receiving antenna would be transparent to sunlight and rain, so the land under it could be farmed or grazed. The beam, no more intense than sunlight, would be too diffuse to cause damage even If It were present full-time and could be converted to electricity with an efficiency of more than 90%, the antenna that receives it could supply to the power grid about 35 times as much energy as an equal area of solar cells on the ground. In contrast with coal or nuclear power plants, the power satellite would spew no carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and would produce no radioactivity. It has so far been given a clean bill of health by the Department of Energy, which spent more than ten million dollars in an investigation of low-density microwave effects on birds, insects, and the ionosphere.
As for the potential market, each solar power satellite would supply as much continuous electric energy to the Earth as ten large nuclear plants, so should be worth at least ten billion dollars if sold for the same price per kilowatt as are nuclear power stations.
The world market for new power plants will be $100 to $400 billion per year by the year 2000, and that’s the market waiting to be penetrated by power satellites if they can undersell coal and nuclear. But power satellites can’t be built economically by following the orthodox approach of more and bigger vehicles. Each solar power satellite would have a mass of 100,000 tons, about as much as a large ocean liner. NASA and its aerospace contractors sketched designs for new rockets 20 times the size of the Shuttle, and figured on launching one of them every few hours for a year, just to lift the components of a single power satellite and the propellants to shift it from low to geosynchronous orbit. But a committee of the National Research Council reviewed those plans, and ended by refusing to believe that the costs of construction and transport could ever be brought low enough for power satellite to compete economically. Because of the overwhelming need to reduce the weight of the satellites to save transport costs the NASA “reference design” reviewed by the NRC had specified solar cells for the primary energy conversion. The NRC didn’t believe solar cells could be made cheaply enough, and also didn’t accept the aerospace industry’s very low estimates for transport costs to orbit. As the U.S. Government has remained at a standstill on the satellite-power issue, it has remained for a small non-profit Institute to explore the practical approach to power from space. The Space Studies Institute (SSI) in Princeton, supported almost entirely by small gifts from thousands of individuals, is funding critical research aimed at making space pay off. A model mass-driver catapult, full scale in its transverse measurements and in acceleration, is being built under an SSI grant to Princeton University’s department of Physics. That model, number three in a series, follows two earlier successes. And SSI has made a $100,000 grant to Rockwell International to measure the chemical reactions needed for the separation of lunar soils into pure elements.
An earlier SSI grant supported a series of workshops to find how best to exploit the lunar resources. The conclusions took the form of a scenario. First a few Shuttle flights would lift the components of a small mass-driver, a chemical separation plant and a general purpose fabrication shop, to be transported to the Moon by chemical rockets. An identical separation plant and fabrication shop would be left in high orbit at the future construction site for power satellites.
All of the equipment would be automated, but only to the degree found practical today in industries on Earth. For jobs needing human operators, those operators would be located on Earth and would control the apparatus remotely by radio and television. According to the SSI studies, the most essential workers in space would therefore be repair specialists rather than machine operators.
Once the initial production facilities were in place, their first task would be replicating, from the lunar metals, silicon and glass, their own heaviest, simplest, “dumbest” components. Not the computers, the precision chucks and drills and sensors, but the heavy frames, pressure vessels and pipes that are most of the weight of chemical plants and fabrication shops; the simple, repetitive coils and busbars that constitute most of the weight of a mass-driver. Within a few months, there would be two identical transport and production lines where only one had stood before. Only about 10% of that new facility’s weight would have been supplied from the Earth. A few more doublings, and the plant would attain the output of 100,000 tons of finished products every year, in space from lunar materials – and all without requiring more than a few Shuttle flights per year for its resupply and expansion. At that point the production facilities in orbit could be turned to manufacturing the components of a satellite power factory, and the factory could go into operation manufacturing power satellites, for sale at $10 billion each.
In that scenario, there would be no need to design the power satellites for minimum weight. Simplicity and relatively low technology would be preferred instead. The final design might well specify turbo generators for power conversion, with their boilers heated by concentrated sunlight. The experts assembled for the SSI workshops estimated that the total investment required for the space production facility to the economic takeoff point would be about $8 billion, similar to the price of the privately-financed Alaskan Pipeline. Most of the investment would be for development of the first space-rated mass-driver, chemical separation plant and fabrication shop, each of which would later be replicated many times in the successive doublings of the production facility.
The minimum total time from now to economic payback would be ten to twelve years, and SSI’s plan is to carry out the first five years of that program on its own, supported by the forces of individual idealism that have created and nurtured the Institute so far.
SSI’s great strengths are long-term endurance and the ability to make choices in research support purely on the basis of facts and logic. To maintain those strengths, SSI prefers to receive small contributions from a large number of sources rather than to become overly dependent on only a few. So far it has neither sought nor accepted government funding, though SSl’s charter does not exclude this possibility.
As for the long-term future that SSI is opening, it is nothing less than a rich, wholly new frontier – a new ecological range for humankind, greater by far even than the New World of the Americas that was opened 500 years ago by the seafaring nations of Europe. The untapped resource of clean, unvarying solar energy waiting on that frontier is more than a hundred million times as much as the sunlight we intercept on Earth. The material resources waiting there, in the form of small asteroids whose diameters and orbits have been plotted, are enough to let us build Earthlike colonies in space with a total land area of 3,000 Earths. So much for the limits to growth. The technological realities of space-colony construction favor smallscale communities of 20,000 or so, each with Earth normal gravity, free to choose its climate, running its manufacturing, transport and agriculture entirely on solar energy, and self-sufficient for all the essentials of life. On that High Frontier for the first time we can free ourselves from the “zero-sum game” of fixed territory extendable only by warfare. Perhaps then humanity can finally come of age.
I invite you to join me in turning that dream into reality within our lifetime.
– Gerard K O’Neill
FROM THE PRINCETON HEADQUARTERS
This issue of SSI UPDATE marks the debut of our computer mailing-labels system. The gift of DB Master software from Senior Associate Barney Stone in California has enabled the Princeton staff to sort and correct records more quickly and efficiently than ever. And at the rate the Institute is growing, it helps our small staff keep track of more and more Subscribers, so that a greater part of each donation can fund research.
AIAA reports that the proceedings of the May 1981 Princeton Conference are ready, after long delays with publishers and other projects. Space Manufacturing Facilities 4 will be mailed in May to all participants who registered for the Conference. Anyone wishing to order an additional copy or who would like one but didn’t register at the Conference may purchase one from AIAA. The cost is $37.50 plus postage and handling. The address is American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, 1290 Avenue of the Americas. New York. New York 10019.
Paperback copies of Dr. O’Neill’s books will be released soon. In May 2081 will be coming from Simon and Schuster, priced at $6.25. If you are unable to find a copy in the bookstores near you, SSI will have copies for sale in early June. Send a check for $8.75 (includes postage) to Space Studies Institute, Princeton, New Jersey 08540. Paperback copies of The High Frontier will be released in October by Anchor Press/Doubleday.
For those of you who’ve wanted a visible symbol of your support in the reach for the High Frontier, we now have two available:
Enclosed in this newsletter is a window sticker for your car, home, or boat. Moisten the face of the sticker with a damp sponge and press it onto a clean window. A note of caution: this is NOT a decal, so be careful not to obstruct the rear view if you mount it in your car window. Additional stickers are available for $1.00 and a self-addressed, business size stamped envelope.
You can wear the future in your lapel, also, with a gold and black cloisonne pin of SSl’s logo. Senior Associates will be receiving one with their notebooks during the summer. The pins can be purchased for $5.00 each, and make handsome Father’s Day gifts.
The Space Studies Institute wishes to thank Rockwell International for the loan of a model of the Space Shuttle. The 1/100 scale model will be used in talks and demonstrations.
Since it was founded, the Space Studies Institute has used the phrase “High Frontier” as a service mark and trade name to identify its interests and activities. The use of the service mark and trade name “High Frontier” is restricted to SSI, to Dr. O’Neill, and to the High Frontier Company with which he is associated. It has been brought to our attention that others are using our service mark and trade name. Our attornyes have requested that you bring to our attention any such attempts to “pirate” our service mark and trade name.
If you would like copies of SSI brochures to hand out at club meetings, conferences, or special interest groups, please let us know. The black and white reproducible brochure is available for a self-addressed, stamped business size envelope. The rust colored brochure is available in any quantity for the cost of the postage to send it, usually about $2.00 for one hundred brochures.
A set of 16 color slides and descriptions of space colonies and space manufacturing is available for $15.00 through SSI.
Senior Associates can look forward to receiving a notebook of SSI materials in June or July. The notebooks will include three large color pictures of space colonies and manufacturing, a history of SSI and welcome letter from Dr. O’Neill, and a copy of his latest mass-driver paper, presented at last year’s conference. Thanks go to Senior Associate Ken Shalhoub for his efforts in organizing this special project.
For gift giving we now have an attractive personalized card for your gift subscriptions. For each gift enclose the name to be placed on the card and the address to where it should be sent along with your donation.
Dr. 0 Neill’s lecture schedule includes the following dates. An asterisk(*) indicates a closed lecture, not open to the public. All lecture dates in June are closed lectures, and there are no lecture dates scheduled for July or August.
June 9th – American Institute of Architects*; Honolulu, Hawaii.
June 16th -Necon 14/The Merchandise Mart*; Chicago, Illinois.
June 23rd -I.B.M.*; San Francisco, California.
June 26th -MENSA*; Princeton, New Jersey.
COMMUNITY PSYCHOLOGY & SPACE COLONIZATION
Community psychology is a fairly new discipline concerned with the interaction among individuals, social systems, and the network of environmental imputs that impinge upon people systems. Specifically, the field is interested in the “goodness of fit” between people and systems. Community psychologists have been active in the design and evaluation of services and interventions for individuals (such as mental health programs), groups of individuals (educational services, statewide systems of services, etc.) and populations (participating in the design of communities). Because of its focus on systems as opposed to the psychology of the individual, community psychology will have an important role in the ultimate design of space colonies. For further information, write James E. Byassee, Ph.D., Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC 27710.
Ed: Asteroids, especially those whose orbits make them easy to reach, are potentially important sources of materials in space. The scientific evidence suggests that the asteroids which approach the Earth probably do not contain carbon, nitrogen or hydrogen, but that asteroids of the main belt, further away, are likely to be rich sources of those elements. In 1979-1980 SSI funded the Ph.D. thesis of Dr. Scott Dunbar in the Princeton Physics department. His topic was the stability of asteroids trapped in the orbit of the Earth around the Sun. Such material, if found, could be retrieved at almost no cost in energy. In 1981 Dr. Dunbar received an NRC fellowship to pursue the search for such asteroidal material, working with Drs. Eugene Shoemaker and Eleanor Helin. The following guest column by SSI Senior Associate Stewart Nozette reports on a closely related project.
Mr. Nozette is currently completing his Ph.D. in planetary science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is a member of several technical societies involved in space exploration, and has written numerous technical and popular articles on the subject. During the winter of 1980-1981 Mr. Nozette worked at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., in the Office of Solar System Exploration, where he first became involved in the Spacewatch Project.
Extensive exploration of space, space manufacturing, and space settlement seem within tantalizing grasp of late 20th century technology, and the economic use of non-terrestrial resources is the key to achieving these goals. Unfortunately, today’s constrained NASA budget precludes all but the most modest federally funded efforts aimed at utilizing nonterrestrial resources. If we could find a relatively economic way to use non-terrestrial materials, the door to space would open much more easily. In spite of all the current problems there Is something we can do in the next few years which will make the use of asteroids more economical; a project vital to the development of space. But it needs help getting started.
Under the leadership of Drs. Eugene Shoemaker and Tom Gehrels, the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory and the Steward Observatory at the University of Arizona have obtained funding from NASA to develop the Spacewatch Camera. They want to build a 72 inch, computer controlled electronic telescope on Kitt Peak mountain, next to the best astronomical facilities in the continental United States, and to use it to scan the skies for small asteroids which come near the Earth. The camera would use the most modern computer controlled system ever placed in a civilian telescope to conduct the search. About 50 near-Earth asteroids are known at present, and several are promising targets for future exploration and mining.
Today, astronomers find asteroids by photographing portions of the sky using a long exposure, and noting a streak produced by a moving asteroid against the background of distant stars. Unfortunately, this procedure is slow: astronomers locate only about two new Earth-approaching asteroids each year. Spacewatch will increase this rate by 10·100 times, and the camera has a chance of spotting objects as small as 30 meters (100 feet) across. The camera uses a light sensitive silicon chip called a charge coupled device (CCD), and scans across the sky looking for points of light that move.
NASA estimates that a manned expedition to the near-Earth asteroid Anteros, a mile-wide mountain, could be accomplished with equipment and propellant hauled up in as few as 25 Shuttle flights. In today’s fiscal climate this represents a major factor. Spacewatch will greatly speed the search for more accessible targets. The camera may discover asteroids which can be explored with an expedition launched by 7-10 Shuttle flights.
A conveniently placed asteroid will be a source of many useful materials for use in space and on Earth. Many planetary scientists believe that some of the carbonaceous meteorites come from the Earth approaching asteroids; and some carbonaceous meteorites contain a weight of water equal to one sixth their entire weight. This water may be removed by simply heating the material. By contrast, the lunar soil contains virtually no water, and complex chemical processes will be needed to separate it into useful materials; i.e., oxygen. Baking asteroid material Is far easier.
Spacewatch may discover materials which can provide a space-based water supply for lower cost than hauling it up from Earth. Water may be converted into hydrogen and oxygen for fuel and breathing. A hydrogen-oxygen powered orbital transfer vehicle could make several hundred round trips between Shuttle orbit and geostationary orbit using the water contained in a small (50-100 meter) chunk of carbonaceous asteroid. If only 7 to 10 shuttle flights are needed to set up this operation, use of asteroidal water become very attractive, and having a space-based supply of water allows more routine, continuous occupation of space.
Asteroids may also contain materials useful for space construction: vast quantities of iron, nickel, cobalt, and platinum metals. All of these metals are vital to modern industrial technology, and will be in increasing demand through the end of the century. Yet, today we are very dependent on unreliable sources for some of what we use. Over 90% of the world’s platinum metals come from the U.S.S.R. and South Africa. These metals are used in everything from glass making, oil and chemical production, electrical components (platinum makes excellent electrodes), and jewelry, to pollution control equipment in autos. Most experts agree that the only way to substantially increase production is to mine more ore in South Africa. As the rest of the world continues to industrialize, the demand will probably increase. Platinum metals are perhaps the first raw materials which could be economically returned to Earth from space, as a byproduct of space-based industry.
We need not worry about flooding the market, for unlike gold, platinum metals have many useful physical and chemical properties. They have very high melting points and their presence makes some chemical reactions proceed much faster, making them vital as catalysts. All metal returned could probably be put to use, although it is much too early to fully understand the economics.
Spacewatch will also provide another useful function by keeping track of bodies which may collide with the Earth. Recent evidence suggests that the massive extinctions which occurred 65 million years ago, including dinosaurs, were caused by the impact of a 10 kilometer (6 mile) wide asteroid or comet nucleus. The impact of even a small (100 foot) piece of rock or metal would cause a multimegaton explosion. Some fear such an event could trigger a nuclear exchange. The possibility of such an event is remote, but it is certainly better to increase the chance of avoiding it.
The Spacewatch Camera will also be used for basic research in astronomy, most notably the search for planets circling other stars. A planet circling another star will cause the star’s radial velocity to vary, and this could be measured by equipment mounted on the Spacewatch Camera during times when the sky is too bright for asteroid hunting, i.e., when the moon is out. A search for extraterrestrial intelligence will be aided by knowledge of which stars have planets.
Yes, Spacewatch has a lot going for it, everything except money. Spacewatch is widely supported within NASA and the scientific community. Noted scientists endorsing or supporting the project include: Nobel Laureate Luis Alverez, James Arnold, Phillip Morrison, Gerard O’Neill, Carl Sagan and George Wetherill.
Unfortunately 1982-1983 budget policies have caused programs to be underfunded, and stretched out. We all remember how stretching out Shuttle development led to much higher costs; stretching out Spacewatch could double the cost due to inflation and increased management expense. In the present fiscal climate it could be delayed indefinitely.
The entire cost of the Spacewatch project is less than 1/10 the cost of a single Space Shuttle launch. Since the Camera will probably discover many future targets, with much savings in launch costs for exploration and prospecting, Spacewatch is one of the best investments of the decade. The camera could be completed by 1986, and the search will take a decade.
Fortunately, Spacewatch offers a unique opportunity for private citizens to make a real contribution to the development of space. NASA and the University of Arizona will continue to support the project, and private contributions can help replace funds lost due to budget cuts.
Ed: SSI is supporting the Spacewatch Project by a “starter” grant, by running Mr. Nozette’s guest column, and by calling attention of SSI Subscribers to a special Spacewatch fund. Donations made to SSI earmarked for that fund will be turned over to the Spacewatch project. Donors may also suggest a name they would like to see on an asteroid. Names will be judged by a panel and the best selected for possible later use. However, the right of naming an asteroid is, by long tradition, reserved to its discoverer. SSI’s position with regard to the Spacewatch project is that it is scientifically sound and worthy of support, although not of as high priority as those projects (the mass-driver and chemical separation of lunar/asteroidal materials) that SSI has targeted for its major support.
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[[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]]
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