Space settlement

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Bernal sphere space habitat

Space settlement is a unique concept for colonization beyond the Earth.  While most thinking regarding the expansion of the human race outward into space has focused on the colonization of the surfaces of other planets, the space settlement concept suggests that planetary surfaces may not be the best location for extraterrestrial colonies.  Artificial, closed-ecology habitats in free orbit would seem to have many advantages over any planetary home (Earth included).

For more information, look at the Space Settlement FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions).


This is a solar-powered mass-driver, an electromagnetic linear accelerator.  It can be utilized as a reaction engine which can use literally anything for fuel (even ground-up chunks of Space Shuttle External Tanks).  The mass-driver has been assembled from components lifted by several shuttle flights, and soon will be ready to begin hauling cargo for a small moon base to lunar orbit.
Moon shuttle

Here, a lunar shuttle soft-lands cargo for the moon base onto the surface.  The cargo includes small habitats, solar arrays, mining equipment, and components for the assembly of another mass-driver on the surface.  This mass-driver will be used as a catapult to launch lunar ores to a point in space where they can be collected.
Solar Power Satellite

A Solar Power Satellite (SPS) with a thoroughly-energized Earth in the background.  One of the first things we will begin doing once we are using space resources is constructing a SPS, a vast solar array which gathers the constant solar power in orbit and beams energy to Earth in the form of a safe, low-density microwave beam.
SPS rectenna

On Earth, the beam is intercepted by a rectenna several miles across, where it is converted back into electricity.  The electricity is then rectified to AC, and fed into the power grid.  The goal is to undersell power generated by fossil fuels or nuclear energy.
Rectenna greenhouse

The rectennas will be huge, but the land underneath need not go to waste.  Since the array absorbs the microwaves, but allows sunlight and rainfall through, the land could be used for farming or ranching.  Or, as in this case, the rectenna could be built as a vast set of greenhouses, feeding millions.
Asteroid miners

Here, a manned expedition to an Earth-approaching asteroid has set up a mass-driver engine.  The mass-driver used chunks of asteroidal material as reaction mass to propel the asteroid to a stable High Earth Orbit where it can be mined for its minerals.  Asteroids can provide vital elements which the Moon may lack, making orbital industries increasingly independent of Earth.
SPS and space habitat

Once space industries have become profitable, it is likely that some of the industrial output will be turned to the task of building the first space settlement.  Behind the SPS nearing completion is a Stanford Torus space habitat.  It spins on its axis like a bicycle wheel so that centrifugal force can serve as an artificial gravity.
Stanford Torus

The habitat is solar-powered.  The oval-shaped mirror above reflects sunlight down onto mirrors mounted on the spokes which in turn reflect it into the interior of the habitat.  The long tunnel at the axis leads to a space factory.
Stanford Torus, close-up

Here we can get a good view of the radiation shield surrounding the habitat.  The shield is a non-rotating outer shell, and is composed of about six feet thickness of the slag left over from the ore-refining operation.  This amount of shielding reduces the cosmic-ray radiation inside the habitat to levels no higher than those found in any Earthly community.
Stanford Torus, interior

The interior of the habitat can be landscaped with lunar soil and planted.  Those living in space need not be cut off from green growing things.
Agricultural area

Technicians monitor crop yields in the agricultural area.  The "growing season" in separate sections can be staggered, ensuring fresh fruits and vegetables for the space settlers year-round.  Those crop plants which can tolerate 24-hour-a-day sunlight can have it.  Agriculture in space will benefit greatly from weather control, and from the absence of pests.
Bernal sphere

Here is a Bernal Sphere.  It's about one mile in circumference.  An individual could climb up to the axis of the habitat (where the gravity would be essentially zero) and enjoy personal flight.
O'Neill Cylinder, exterior

This is among the largest of the space habitat designs, the O'Neill Cylinder.  Each cylinder is four miles in diameter and twenty miles long.  The ring-shaped structures are for agriculture.
O'Neill Cylinder, cloud banks

A view through one of the three windows of the habitat.  Four miles of atmosphere is sufficient depth to result in blue skies overhead.  Cloud banks would form at the same level they do on Earth, and there would be natural rainfall.
O'Neill Cylinder, interior

The inhabitants of an O'Neill Cylinder would live in one of three valleys.  The suspension bridge in this illustration is the same size as the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.
Solar eclipse

Space settlers witness a rare event: the eclipsing of the sun by the Earth.  This would be an uncommon occurrence.  In a sufficiently-high Earth orbit, a habitat would be in continuous sunlight well over 99% of the time, much to the benefit of its solar-powered industries and electrical utilities.  As solar power in space is a constant, reliable source of cheap, clean energy, the standard of living in the orbital settlements is expected to be correspondingly high.
O'Neill cylinder, cloudscapes

The mirrors shift to bring the fall of night to a space habitat.  Pity the poor artist.  He just can't seem to get inspired.  There's nothing particularly extraordinary about the scenery!
Gerard K. O'Neill

Gerard K. O'Neill, father of the space settlement concept.  The model on the desk is a Bernal Sphere, minus the mirrors.  What the heck is he doing with those pens?

The Space Settlement FAQ

Most of the concepts on this webpage and in the Space Settlement FAQ are from "The High Frontier" by Gerard K. O'Neill, which is available from the Space Studies Institute.

If you find these ideas interesting, you might want to check out some of my hard science-fiction stories, which often deal with space settlement concepts.

In The Bridge to Space, there is a description in the Epilogue of what life might be like in a really large Bernal Sphere.

In If Not For the Fall, there are some 543 billion human beings living in space habitats in the distant future.

The Next Best Thing to Being There is set on a Lunar mining camp, where ice is a rare and valuable commodity.

A man investigates a most unusual space habitat in The Land of Eternal Night.

In Journey to Alfasfere there is a detailed description of what it would be like to climb up toward the axis of a space habitat, becoming lighter and lighter until you finally begin to float.

Designing Paradise describes the types of recreational possibilities which may present themselves in orbital settlements.

Miranda and the Space Pirates is the story of an adventuresome family which uses orbital habitat technology to homestead in the Asteroid Belt.


The Advantages of Space Living Over Planetary Living started out as a paper written for a college seminar hosted by Gerard O'Neill.  It was later re-written for publication in a Star Trek fanzine.

In Crossroads, there is a comparison between two different futures: One with space travel, and the other without.

What, if anything, might all this have to do with extraterrestrials?  Find out in Are We Alone In the Galaxy?  The View From the High Frontier.

In the newsgroup, a poster named GroundHog decided to shake up us would-be space settlers by posting a provocative essay entitled Dumb Wannabe Colonists.  Some may find it insulting, but I found it food for thought.

Science-Fiction author Sylvia Engdahl has written a very good essay entitled Space and Human Survival.

Other websites of interest:

Space Studies Institute

Space Studies Institute (Updated URL): Founded by Gerard O'Neill, this non-profit organization funds research into space manufacturing.  Features the SSI slideshow and several good articles.

Al Globus' website

Space Settlement: Web page maintained by Al Globus.  Features pictures of space habitats.

1st Millenial Foundation Logo

The First Millennial Foundation: Founded by Marshall Savage, author of "The Millennial Project".  Dedicated to expanding life into space.

P.E.R.M.A.N.E.N.T. The PERMANENT Website: PERMANENT is an acronym for Program to Employ Resources of the Moon and Asteroids Near Earth in the Near Term.  This website goes into deeper detail on many of the subjects found here.
SpaceDev logo SpaceDev, LLC: This recently-formed corporation seeks to explore and develop space commercially, and is currently working on NEAP - the Near Earth Asteroid Prospector.
L-5: First City In Space L5 - First City In Space: Sony Theatres has produced a 3-D IMAX movie about the first space habitat, built at the 5th Lagrange point.

Island One Society

Island One Society: Group emphasizing the political freedom which may be possible in space habitats.

National Space Settlement Design Competion

National Space Settlement Design Competition: Academic contest for students to design their own space habitats.

The Artemis Society

The Artemis Society: Devoted to a return to the moon with an emphasis on commercial development.

Moon Miners' Manifesto

Moon Miners' Manifesto: Required reading for all lunar prospectors.

SPS logo The SPS homepage: Info on Solar Power Satellites.

The Space Frontier Foundation

The Space Frontier Foundation: Pushing for the opening of the high frontier to the average citizen, and Cheap Access To Space.

HAL5 logo
HAL5: The NSS Huntsville Alabama L5 Society.
Space Future logo Space Future: This website emphasizes space power and space tourism as the two most promising economic drivers for space development.
NIX NASA Image eXchange: This link to NIX will take you directly to NASA's images of space settlements.

This page has an honor listing in USA Online

HBO's From The Earth to the Moon: Now available from!
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Index Skepticism Hard sci-fi stories SPACE: 1999 A Gallery of My Hideous Deformities

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