SSI Update December 2009

First, thank you for your support of the Space Studies Institute.  SSI was founded on the principle that the technology we develop to industrialize and settle space is our best hope for the future. SSI’s mission is to help complete the missing technical steps to open the High Frontier. SSI does this by supporting research and holding conferences to:

1. Determine the critical path to space settlement
2. Identify missing technology
3. Fund the development of that technology

Over the past three decades, your contributions have laid the groundwork for Burt Rutan’s X Prize winning SpaceShipOne, XCOR’s suborbital spacecraft Lynx, and the first production of engineering materials from lunar resources. You have also helped propel discovery of hydrogen at the lunar poles, a workable design for a closed all biological life-support system, three generations of mass driver engines, and the discovery of the Near Earth Object population.

It seemed to Professor Dyson and me that the key technology to make SSI’s research worthwhile was a mature space transportation system.  Without affordable space access, any additional time, money and talent SSI would spend developing technologies for use in space would be premature and not cost-effective.

Accordingly, SSI’s most recent hardware project was an investment in XCOR Aerospace to support rocket engine pump development.  DARPA matched SSI’s investment four to one.  The cryogenic and propellant pump systems made possible by that SSI investment are an integral part of the propulsion system developed by the company for its fully reusable suborbital launch vehicle, the Lynx. The pumps not only boost the performance of its long-lasting 5K18 liquid oxygen-kerosene engines, they also permit XCOR to improve performance through use of lighter tanks that conform to the spacecraft’s aerodynamic shape.

These kinds of technical advances move us closer to affordable space access and are proof that SSI can make a difference through targeted investment in research and technological development.

Despite the success of these investments, there was a downside for SSI as I worked to secure additional capital and managerial talent for XCOR. This consumed so much time and effort for those years that I was not able to devote attention to the Space Studies Institute itself. The untimely death of our Chairman Roger O’Neill, and health issues of our long-serving and dedicated Executive Director Bettie Greber, led to SSI growing increasingly inactive.

Now, XCOR is well on its way with the sale of the first Lynx vehicle and work on the piloted orbital system, and I am ready to rededicate myself and work hard to ensure that SSI will be re-energized to continue in its role as a catalyst for space development.

SSI has already taken steps to revitalize itself:

1. We have moved the office and library from Princeton to the the Mojave Air and Space Port, the epicenter for the development of low-cost space transportation.
2. Executive Director Robin Snelson has taken on administrative duties.

And we are:
3. Upgrading the website
4. Sponsoring research in life support and non-terrestrial materials for space manufacturing
5. Developing a virtual world presence for SSI and its friends in Second Life. 
6. Holding a conference on space settlement in 2010
7. Developing a Critical Path to Space Solar Power
8. Improving the SSI library and archives as a resource for the space development community
9. Designing a mini space settlement

SSI’s Space Manufacturing and Space Settlement conferences have always been the cornerstone of our activities. For thirty years, they were the meeting place for dynamic people interested in space settlement.  People who met at SSI conferences have accomplished most of the useful work done on space transportation, and on space settlement enabling legislation.  Without these conferences, the landscape of private space development would be vastly different. We will now continue this important event. 

The next SSI Space Manufacturing and Space Settlement conference will be held in October of 2010.

We are also setting new research priorities, based on the roadmap of technologies needed for space manufacturing and settlement. Since you can’t get there if you don’t have transportation, SSI will continue to support:

1. Low cost space access
2. Fully reusable propulsion systems.
3. Mass driver engines
4. Use of non-terrestrial materials
5. We will produce evidence that establishes that manufacturing and extraction industries on the Moon or on asteroids is cost-effective.
6. We will develop sustainable environments for space.

While rocket propulsion will likely provide launch capability, fully reusable propulsion systems will be important for many deep space missions. We will build on our successful work with mass drivers and spur more development work on this promising propulsion technology.

After low cost launch, non-terrestrial materials use is the major enabler of settlement. At present, common wisdom is that it will be so expensive that any attempt to use them appears far too futuristic and difficult. We believe precisely the opposite. The early use of non-terrestrial resources for propellant and construction materials is the key to early space industrialization and settlement. A recent study on space-based solar power conducted by the National Security Space Office did not recommend the possibility of non-terrestrial materials, even though an SSI study performed more than two decades ago demonstrated a much lower total cost for using lunar materials.

SSI-sponsored studies have shown it is possible to obtain non-terrestrial resources and produce usable materials from them. Dr. Robin Oder produced a preliminary design for a high magnetic field separating technology. This process can be used as a first step in production of a number of engineering materials for construction on the Moon or other locations using on-site resources.

SSI is now supporting Dr. Peter Schubert’s development of a process to extract oxygen and other useful materials from lunar regolith.  Dr. Schubert has just won a NASA SBIR for phase 2 of his project. His innovative techniques take advantage of the lunar environment. Importantly, his technology has the potential to be commercialized and supply lunar oxygen as propellant within the next decade. 

Professor John S. Lewis, SSI Vice President for Research, is developing a technological roadmap for development of non-terrestrial materials.

Long term human presence in space requires sustainable environments. One goal is to restart SSI’s closed environment life support system work, particularly since there may be an early market for them in private space stations.  A byproduct of the research and development needed to develop a closed life-support system for use in space settlements will be valuable insight into the operation of planet Earth’s carbon and nitrogen cycles.

The critical problems in closed life support systems involve recycling of sewage and crop waste. These interrelated problems appear to be the toughest to solve and we believe we have solutions.  We need to build and test the solutions on a pilot scale and integrate those with closed atmosphere management. We hope to find a major contributor to sponsor SSI for this development begun by Professor William Jewell of Cornell University.

Today, we confront many obstacles. We are in a global recession, and many are concerned about the environment and future energy supplies. But this is also a great opportunity for SSI to address these concerns by directing energy toward space settlement as a means of meeting these challengers and opening a new, High Frontier for all humanity.

Special thanks go to SSI’s Senior Associates, who have always provided the backbone of financial support for the institute. We hope you will renew your commitment to advance the work on space settlement inspired by Professor O’Neill and continued by Space Studies Institute.

Sincerely yours,

Lee S. Valentine

Chairman, Board of Directors

Space Studies Institute

As befits a volunteer organization funded by individual donations, SSI is open and welcoming to those who are interested in space settlement and want to help. Volunteers have always made conferences run smoothly, publicized the institute’s work and helped recruit new associates.  If you have the time and inclination to work on some of our projects, please let us know about your skill and desires.

We are looking for donations or loan of technical books on all aspects of propulsion, non-terrestrial materials, space engineering and closed environment life support systems.

Space Studies Institute is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization.
Contributions to SSI are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.

Become a Senior Associate with a five-year pledge of $100 a year.
Become a member with a contribution of $50 (students, $25).

A renewal form may be downloaded here for your reply by mail.
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Space Studies Institute
1434 Flight Line St.
Mojave, CA 93501

7 thoughts on “SSI Update December 2009”

  1. I am delighted to learn of the revitalisation of SSI, and its renewal of critical path R&D for space settlement. There is a growing understanding that the alternatives to an open future in Space are, frankly, unappetising- viz overcrowding and conflict due to energy and resource depletion( Malthus) with or without totalitarian regimes ( Orwell).

    Green orthodoxy, in some areas, leads on to calls for human sacrifices to “Save the Planet” .( See “Can Space Save the Planet?” at Google)

    Human sacrifice to Save the Natural Order did not help the Mayan Prince Yikin Can Gaw’ill nor the Aztec Ahuitzotl II. There is no reason to suppose that we would fare any better under a hairshirt tailored to the Green call to Save the Planet.

    The Case for Space is, if anything, stronger than that put so ably by Gerard K O’Neill three decades or so ago.

    It is good to be able to contribute to this future in small well-defined steps as a private citizen

  2. I too am greatly relieved and delighted to see signs of rebirth at SSI. I would really like to encourage Dr. Valentine and everyone else to push forward. I know that O’Neill’s vision though still remembered is often seen as outdated in some circles, but his basic logic remains sound and there urgency for humanity today only grows.

    I really hope a conference will become a reality this year and I hope to be able to attend. The lack of new publications has greatly contributed to the general malaise concerning our vision. I hope the conference proceedings will be published and that this website will be used to publish papers covering SSI’s priorities.

    Mark A. Crossman
    Ajax, Ontario

  3. O’Neill’s vision is sound. His testimony on July 23, 1975 before the House Subcommittee on Space Science & Applications and his testimony on January 19, 1976 before the Senate Subcommittee on Aerospace Technology & National Needs is in the record.

    Space Solar Power can deliver to us the solar system on the back of cis-lunar activity that is chartered to solve pressing energy and environmental stewardship requirements on earth.

    The government is trying to decide what to do in space and how to align public, private, and perhaps international capabilities.

    The nation is long overdue in implementing the plan described in O’Neill’s “The High Frontier”, and so ably laid out in his testimony to Congress.

  4. Greetings from Endicott, NY. It’s great to see some new activity at SSI. I’ve been installing terrestrial solar power, biding my time until I can install space solar power.

    You should put something in the SSI history about the Lunar Prospector, which was made possible by start-up funds from SSI. The latest lunar probe, LCROSS, confirmed LP’s findings.

    I have back-issues of the journal “Space Power”. Would you like me to send them to SSI for your library?

    — Gay
    Extraterrestrial Materials, Inc./ dba ETM Solar Works
    [Former Editor of “Space Power”]

  5. Greetings Dr. Canough. It’s great to hear from you. Yes, SSI would like you to send your back issues of “Space Power” for the library. Thank you.

    At your suggestion, we added a few lines about Lunar Prospector to the History page. It is also mentioned on the pages called About and Research Introduction (and so are you!). Thanks again for your support of SSI and the future of space solar power.

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