SSI Newsletters: 1985 November December

Space Studies Institute Newsletter 1985 NovDec cover

[[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]]




By Joe Allen


The Industrial Space Facility (ISF) is the invention of Space Industries, Inc., a three year old company under the direction of Dr. Maxime Faget, chief designer of every American manned spacecraft series flown to date. The near-term plan of the company is to place the ISF, a “man-tended” space platform, into commercial operation on a lease-for-service basis by the end of this decade. The facilities will be placed in Space Station compatible orbits; consequently, when the National Space Station becomes operational, the ISF will be able to take full advantage of the economies of operation brought about by the frequent logistic missions serving the Space Station complex. In addition, since the concept for the platform allows for growth both in size and function, the ISF could become a prototype industrial park in space if user demands grow as expected.

Unique Features

The unique features of the ISF will include abundant power, cooling and large pressurized interior volumes to support a variety of commercial and government uses. Astronauts will be able to enter the ISF’s “shirt-sleeve” environment directly from the Shuttle during servicing and resupply periods. Between Shuttle visits the facility will operate as an autonomous unmanned free-flyer.
Flight control forces will be minimized by use of an innovative Gravity-Gradient stabilization and control system. An ultra-pure microgravity environment will thus be maintained in the facility’s interior, particularly during the critical periods between Shuttle visits.

Operational Features

The ISF is designed to reach full operational status with a single Space Shuttle launch. Later, additional modules can be added to the original one exactly as extra cars are coupled to a train. This modular design readily lends itself to growth of production capacity in response to market demands. In addition, individually designed modules can be tailored to specific user requirements. Each module will provide to the user up to 12Kw of sustainable power along with essential cooling and telemetry capabilities.
Another unique feature is the provision for man-tended on-board servicing of customer equipment. Each 35-foot-long, 14.5-foot diameter Facility Module will offer 2,500 cubic feet of pressurized internal volume, enabling easy servicing and maintance by Space Shuttle crews in a comfortable shirt-sleeve environment.

The ISF design places a high priority on ease of maintenance and replacement of parts through a highly modular subsystem approach. Most repairs and replacements can be conveniently undertaken from inside the modules.  In the cases where this is not practical for safety or technical reasons, the design provides failsafe redunancy and accomodates external operations by astronauts in pressure suits.
The ISF will operate in a circular 230 nautical mile orbit inclined at 28.5 degrees to the equator. The facility will not be permanently manned, but will provide a habitable environment for equipment servicing and resupply when the Space Shuttle is docked to it. Shuttle servicing visits are planned to occur as often as every three months.

Facility resupply will be accomplished by exchanging restocked Supply Modules for depleted ones during each Shuttle visit. These modules will be positioned by the Shuttle’s Remote Manipulator System. Shuttle crews will then enter the ISF via a special berthing adaptor to perform repairs, make servicing adjustments and equipment change-outs, harvest products, and clean and restock production apparatus.


The ISF program responds to a variety of manufacturing and research needs. Its unique design is intended to support materials processing industries projected to produce billions of dollars in revenues each year by the mid­1990’s. These industries will take advantage of the unique low-gravity, high vacuum conditions in space to create high-value products such as pharmaceuticals and biological products, exotic crystals and semiconductors. The Facility’s design also offers the versatility to support a wide variety of science and R&D applications:

• The ISF can provide an environment for experiments that will yield information about ways to improve material processes both on Earth and in space.
• The ISF can serve as a test bed for use by NASA and other government organizations for the developJDent and testing of equipment and procedures to be used in space.
• The ISF can be used as an orbiting warehouse for equipment, repair parts and logistic supplies.

Space Industies’ business plan is to carry out the design, development and manufacturing in three successive phases. The first phase is now complete, including the establishment of a baseline design, the application for several patents to protect the unique features of the design, a preliminary analysis of the market potential and an estimate of the Facility costs. The company has also negotiated and signed a Space System Development Agreement with NASA which provides a favorable financial arrangement for the Shuttle launch of the first ISF, the resupply of this Facility and the launch of the second ISF. In addition, Space Industries has negotiated and signed with the NASA Office of Space Station a Memorandum of Understanding to insure operational compatability between the Space Station complex and the complementing clusters of Industrial Space Facilities.


by James D. Burke

James Burke is a Trustee ofthe Space Studies Institute, technical advisor at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and is technical editor of The Planetary Report. The following article is reprinted from the March/April issue with their permission.

On Earth today lives a cohort of humans, the first ever to have the option of living away from our planet. Dreamed of over centuries by those now dead and gone, this prospect has finally become real. But ironically, just as we were about to grasp it, our resolution failed. Instead of continuing after Apollo to explore the Moon and develop ways to inhabit it, we have fallen back to working in the space just above the Earth’s biosphere, where we now will slowly develop the skills of off-Earth living.

Today no one can say how many years may pass before humans again travel to the Moon. But when they do, it seems quite likely that they will go there intending to stay. In this article I will discuss some aspects of that adventure. Though we cannot tell when it will happen, or exactly why, we can predict some of its qualities because of what we already know about the Moon and about ourselves.

Reaching into the Cosmos

Jacques Monod wrote,”Man, like a gyp­sy, lives at the boundary of an alien world, a world that is deaf to his music and indifferent to his sufferings and his crimes.” Yet we humans do often transcend our own petty quarrels, reaching out to each other and into the cosmos around us. The settlement of the Moon could be the next such milestone for our civilization.

Recognizing this possibility, and believing that now is the time to begin preparing for that next historic step, the American lunar community took action in 1984. In April a planning meeting convened at Los Alamos. One result was the plan for a nationwide symposium, which took place in Washington, DC at the end of October, on the subject of lunar bases and the 21st century activities in space. Also, during the summer of 1984, NASA sponsored a study and a series of workshops on a closely related subject: the use of extraterrestial resources.
Though these activities could not and did not lead to governmental acceptance of a new manned lunar program, they did re-energize the faith and commitment of those involved and they surely widened the base of public understanding. It is now broadly recognized that, early in the next century, humans may well dwell on the Moon, and there is even support for some needed technical preparations. For example, NASA’s deep-space exploration plan now includes an automated lunar geochemical survey from orbit – the first serious consideration of this often-proposed mission in almost a decade.

While corresponding – or, it is to be hoped, complementary – Soviet lunar initiatives have not been announced, it is clear that the USSR is building capabilities and operating experience that could provide a basis for manned missions in the future.

Indeed, in the USSR there has even been some public discussion recently of the preparations for the manned exploration of Mars. Thus, though neither nation yet acknowledges an intent to establish bases on the Moon, both are capable of starting programs toward that end.

Lunar Resources

To sustain human settlements off Earth it will ultimately be essential to use local resources: materials, energy and unique environments of the solar system. Humans have already begun to grapple with the problem of setting up a legal regime for the use of lunar resources. The large, nearby Moon is tempting but also forbidding as a site of human habitation. Though its origin is still unknown and hotly debated amoung scientists, some of the Moon’s relevent characteristics are well established.

Forming some four and a half billion years ago, at about the same time as Earth, the Moon was apparently largely molten, at least in its outer layers. It cooled, but then about three billion years ago an episode of partial melting occurred (due probably to heat from radioactive elements in the interior) and gave rise to the great dark floods of lava in the maria. All the while, the Moon was being bombarded by the objects that made its thousands of impact craters, with the result that today the lunar surface is a mixture of rock fragments of all sizes.

Because of its small size (the lunar radius is 1738 kilometers; the surface area is about equal to that of Africa) and low density, the Moon’s gravity is weak, only one-sixth that at the surface of Earth, so that it is unable to retain any significant atmosphere. Also, its interior heat has by now mostly leaked away; it still has some seismic activity but, by comparison to Earth’s seething tectonic and volcanic activity, it is a very quiet planet.

The Moon is a huge natural storehouse of rock, orbiting in the outer reaches of Earth’s deep gravity well. Hauling materials up from Earth will always be costly. If lunar rock and soil can be converted into useful products, the rate of human progress into space may be greatly accelerated. Many analysts believe that the most important large-scale application of lunar material may be as oxygen for rocket propellant. Calculations show that, in a typical program scenario, more than three quarters of the total tonnage lifted from Earth must be propellants.

If some of this propellant mass could be launched from the Moon and delivered into Earth orbit via aerobraking in Earth’s upper atmosphere, there could be a net economic gain – depending, of course, on the cost of recovering the oxygen from the Moon. Lunar minerals contain up to 40 percent oxygen, and methods are known in principle for extracting it with the aid of solar or nuclear energy.

Some of these physiochemical processes could also yield useful metals, including ultrapure iron, titanium and aluminum.

Lunar soil is also valuable just in its natural form. For prolonged inhabitation, all Earth-type life on the Moon must be shielded from ionizing radiation and micrometoerite bombardment, maintained in a proper temperature and pressure environment, and provided with energy and materials for metabolism. The obvious ways to supply these needs is to provide living spaces underground, using lunar material as cover.

Essential Elements

Some of the chemical elements essential to off-Earth living appear to be nearly absent from the Moon. The most important of these are hydrogen and carbon. As the Moon went through a high-temperature phase in its evolution, volatile elements were baked out of its crust – or perhaps they were just never incorporated into the forming of the Moon. In any event, the currently known lunar rocks are absolutely dry and their minerals are those that form in the absence of water. How, then, are we to obtain this vital substance on the Moon? Hauling water up from Earth, perhaps as hydrogen to be combined with lunar oxygen on the Moon, may indeed be necessary in the starting phase of a program, but is probably a losing proposition in the long run.

An off-Earth source of hydrogen is essential, and three possible sources are known. First, a small amount of hydrogen is continually delivered to the Moon by the solar wind. Solar hydrogen and other atoms are implanted in a thin surface layer on the fine lunar soil particles, whence they can be easily recovered by heating the soil. But many tons of soil must be processed to obtain each kilogram of hydrogen, so use of this solar-wind resource will depend on the development of an economical mining method.

A second source of extraterrestial volatiles can be the Earth-crossing asteriods. Some meteorites are rich in water and carbonaceous compounds. Even a small asteroid composed of these known meteorite materials would be an enormous space bonanza, especially if it were in an orbit easily reached from here. Some asteroid orbits do have this property. Indeed, because of the asteroids’ small mass and negligible gravity, two-way trips to some Earth-crossers are possible at a small fraction of the propulsive energy needed to go to and from the Moon. Trip times are long, typically years as contrasted to days for lunar travel. But this need not be a barrier to voyages by automated spacecraft that could return asteroid materials for use in space or on the Moon.

The third possible source of the needed hydrogen may be ices in the Moon. Because the Moon’s polar axis is almost perpendicular to the plane of the ecliptic there are no lunar seasons. Thus in the polar regions some areas are never exposed to sunlight. From our position on Earth we cannot see into these dark places, and even from orbit nothing can be seen in the shadows.

Temperatures in the perennial darkness must be very low, perhaps more than two hundred degrees below zero Celsius. Here ice molecules could survive, even in vacuum, over geologic time. Are they in fact there? Nobody knows. Scientists’ opinions differ, based on their assumptions as to plausible histories for the Moon.

For example, if the Moon’s spin axis has been upset by impacts, allowing sunlight to reach all parts of its surface, all near-surface ices may have been baked out. Alternatively, volatiles may still exist in the deep interior, trapped there billions of years ago when the Moon’s heat engine ran down and its volcanism died. The strange sinuous rilles in some volcanic regions of the Moon are most probably lava channels, but they might be the fossil traces of ancient rivers that ran briefly under a cover of mud and ice.

Icy El Dorado

Speculations about a possible icy El Dorado in the Moon are pointless; exploration is the only way to settle these questions. A lunar geochemical orbiter can detect near-surface ices, if they exist in useful quanity, by observing gamma rays at a particular energy resulting from the interaction of cosmic rays with deuterium in the ice.

The Moon’s material resources, at least as we know them now, are thus a mixture of the familiar and the very strange. If we are to use them effectively, we must develop a whole new industry of mining and processing suited to lunar conditions. Technology can exploit the unlimited vaccum, and solar energy is abundant there.

Because of the absence of seasons, there may even be perpetual sunlight on mountain­tops near the poles – an invitation by nature to the lunar base designer who, anywhere else on the Moon, will have to contend with two­week scorching days and two-week frigid nights. Even if no natural lunar ices are found, the polar cold traps can serve as sites for rejecting waste heat from solar or nuclear power­plants. Alternatively they can be used for storage of human-made volatile products which would otherwise have to be kept in heavy pressure tanks.

Other aspects of the lunar environment also constitute a resource: The polar cold traps may be good sites for cryogenic astronomical telescopes, and the Moon’s far side, shielded from the radio noise of Earth, is the ideal location for an advanced radio observatory.

The Moon’s gentle gravity will permit fantastic human gymnastics, leading perhaps to entirely new forms of recreation and of expression in the lively arts. Effects of this gravity level on the long-term health of animals and plants are presently unknown; perhaps it will prove sufficient to prevent the physiological deterioration that occurs during long exposure to “zero g.”

In these unearthly conditions we can expect new sciences, new arts and new forms of human living to flourish. Astronomy can reach into the cosmos, observing cool objects in studies of star formation and of planetary systems. Searches for evidence of extraterrestial intelligence can reach unprecedented resolution and sensitivity in the Moon’s quiet, protected environment. Most important of all in the long run, lunar agriculture may lead to the establishment of a new, spaceborne civilization that could then spread without limit.

These vistas can become real. There is no evident scientific or technical reason why they should not. But at present, humanity needs – but apparently does not have – a justification for making the large initial investment. Instead we spend our disposable resources in trying to obtain security here on Earth. If a lunar initiative could change this situation, it might be the most important collective human action since the coming of nuclear weapons. Let us now examine that prospect.

Should We Go?

If going to the Moon and living there were cheap, people would surely be there now. The adventure alone would be an adequate stimulus; never mind the beautiful science, the social experiments and the possible economic returns. But lunar travel is not cheap, and lunar living at least at first, will demand devotion, ingenuity and bravery as well as continuous and costly Earthside support and resupply. Also, until some modest comforts and recreations are available there, crew rotation will have to be frequent.

The costs of realistic lunar settlement programs are, therefore, measured in tens of billions of dollars or rubles, with annual budgets reaching into the billions. While it is true that projects of this size have been fitted into NASA’s budget in the past and could be fitted into it in the future, either the US or the USSR would have to have strong incentives to launch a lunar settlement program.

Ideally, they would do it together and share the costs and benefits. But even if that proved to be politically impossible, there are ways in which both nations could benefit. For example, scientific and cultural exchanges could occur within the framework of competing national programs, just as has occurred in the space enterprise up to now. And the competing national programs themselves could start a healthy trend.

During the Apollo era, the USSR carried on a major competing program whose achievements received relatively little attention because of Apollo’s overwhelming success. Soviet automated spacecraft did land on the Moon, orbit it, rove upon the lunar surface, and return soil samples to Earth. Soviet circumlunar manned-precursor test flights, made without human crews but on at least one occasion carrying live animals, photographed the Moon and the distant orb of Earth and returned safely home.

These and other lunar developments were a peaceful expression of Soviet skills in high technology, organization and management undoubtedly engaging talents, including military ones, in a manner presenting no threat to the world. Would it not be good if this could happen again? The American and Soviet military­industrial complexes are huge and powerful; efforts to simply shrink them will always meet internal resistance.

But suppose both nations decided to redirect a part of their military energies to this competitive but non-belligerent objective. The program would still demand high technology and human bravery, resourcefulness, discipline, strength and endurance; it would thus provide excellent training and personnel career prospects – but it would be a peaceable contest.

When considered in the context of defense budgets, even a multi-billion-dollar or -ruble lunar program looks small. Perhaps this is a way to assimilate the high initial costs and begin the investment that can someday lead to a confident stride by humanity – the stride that will plant an outpost of our civilization upon the waiting Moon.



1985 SSI/AIAA/Princeton Conference on Space Manufacturing
Published proceedings may be obtained for the Seventh Biennial SSI/AIAA/Princeton Conference on Space Manufacturing by sending your name, address, and check ($29.50 for AlAA or SSI members or $39.50 for non-members.) The proceedings “Space Manufacturing: Engineering with Lunar and Asteroidal Resources” will be published in hardcover format by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. It will be a limited publication.

Earlier Conferince Proceedings

The following proceedings available:
Volume 1: Space Manufacturing Facilities and Space Colonies (1974 and 1975 Conferences) $19.50
Volume 3: Space Manufacturing 3 (1979 Conference) $37.50
Volume 4: Space Manufacturing 4 (19Sh Conference) $37.50

You may order the proceedings by sending your name, address, request (please be sure to indicate volume number) and check to SSI.
Please allow 6 weeks for delivery.

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