Category Archives: Space Settlement

Space settlement roundup – Dec.17.2019

A sampling of recent articles, videos, and images related to human expansion into the solar system (see also previous space settlement postings):

** Map shows Mars settlers where to find water: NASA’s Treasure Map for Water Ice on Mars | NASA

“This rainbow-colored map shows underground water ice on Mars. Cool colors are closer to the surface than warm colors; black zones indicate areas where a spacecraft would sink into fine dust; the outlined box represents the ideal region to send astronauts for them to dig up water ice.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU”

A new paper published in Geophysical Research Letters will help [select landing spots on Mars] by providing a map of water ice believed to be as little as an inch (2.5 centimeters) below the surface.

Water ice will be a key consideration for any potential landing site. With little room to spare aboard a spacecraft, any human missions to Mars will have to harvest what’s already available for drinking water and making rocket fuel.

NASA calls this concept “in situ resource utilization,” and it’s an important factor in selecting human landing sites on Mars. Satellites orbiting Mars are essential in helping scientists determine the best places for building the first Martian research station. The authors of the new paper make use of data from two of those spacecraft, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and Mars Odyssey orbiter, to locate water ice that could potentially be within reach of astronauts on the Red Planet.

“You wouldn’t need a backhoe to dig up this ice. You could use a shovel,” said the paper’s lead author, Sylvain Piqueux of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “We’re continuing to collect data on buried ice on Mars, zeroing in on the best places for astronauts to land.”

See also:

** Recent interviews on The Space Show dealing with space settlement:

**** Fri, 12/13/2019 – Morgan Irons discussed “space farming and agriculture, closed and quasi-closed loop life support, food security and lots more”.

**** Thu, 12/05/2019Al Globus discussed”new information and an implementation program for his ELEO space habitat” concepts.

**** Tue, 12/03/2019Bryce Meyer discussed “space farms, growing food in space, lunar agriculture, food on Mars, recycling human waste, space farm energy needs and TRL’s”.

** A discussion of the definition of space settlement by Dale A. Skran: SPACE BASICS: What is Space Settlement? – National Space Society

Before we get too far into this, it is important to clearly differentiate between “space settlement” and “a space settlement.” Space settlement is the general process of developing and settling space. A space settlement is a specific place in space where people live, work, and raise families.

Let’s start with a relevant dictionary definition of settlement—“the settling of persons in a new place.” This definition is almost immediately self-referential, as it refers to “settling of persons.” When we look at “settle” the verb, we see definitions that include “to migrate to and organize (an area, territory, etc); colonize,” “to cause to take up residence,” and “to furnish (a place) with inhabitants or settlers.”

All these definitions revolve around people living in a new place—“colonizing,” “taking up residence,” etc. This is very important—“taking up residence” implies permanence, family life, a job, and so on. A soldier being assigned to a base for a year is not “colonizing” or “taking up residence”—instead they are “being deployed.” A scientist might be “assigned” to work at a base in Antarctica for a period of time, but they are not “colonizing” Antarctica.

Thus, I propose that a “space settlement” is a group of people (men, women, children) who move to some specific location in space (Moon, Mars, an asteroid, orbital free space, etc.) to take up permanent residence there. This implies that they will raise their children in this “space settlement,” work in or near the “space settlement,” and in all probability die and have their remains disposed of there as well.

Skan concludes with

To summarize, the space settlements we are working to establish have the following characteristics:

    • Families live in them on a permanent basis
    • The settlements engage in commercial activity that generates the wealth needed to sustain them, and are not dependant on infusions of government funds.
    • They are large enough and diverse enough to be, at least potentially, both economically and biologically self-sustaining.
    • They may have a variety of organizational forms, including kibbutz style common ownership of the settlement, systems based on private property, company towns, or religious communities.

**  OffWorld is developing universal industrial robots for “heavy lifting” on Earth, Moon, asteroids and Mars: Meet OffWorld, the startup that wants to mine the moon with a swarm of robots | Digital Trends

To say that OffWorld’s dream is an ambitious one is to put it mildly. The company envisions a future in which millions of smart robots work together using swarm intelligence “on and offworld” to build the infrastructure of tomorrow. Long term, they even imagine the possibility of using the robots to mine for materials which could be used to build new chips “with zero reliance on terrestrial supply.”

Check out OffWorld’s Master Plan (pdf).

** Baking cookies and other tasty foods in space: Time Dodd, the Everyday Astronaut, reports on the new baking system on the ISS: How NASA will bake in space for the first time and why that’s a BIG deal! – Everyday Astronaut

More at DoubleTree Cookies in Space – The First Food Ever Baked in Space

** A video of “Olympus”, Bigelow’s largest expandable habitat design:

Featuring a simple cut-away view of the B2100 “Olympus” to show the interior, this video is a compilation of previously uploaded Bigelow habitat clips as well as some new ones. Enjoy!

B330 and B2100 models by fragomatik.
ISS model by NASA, adapted for use within IMAGINE v2.19 by fragomatik.

** Space based solar power has been failed to reach orbit despite decades of proposals and advocacy. Perhaps big drops in launch costs and cheaper SBSP system designs will finally make it practical, especially for powering remote sites:  How to Get Solar Power on a Rainy Day? Beam It From Space | WIRED

In October, the Air Force Research Lab announced a $100 million program to develop hardware for a solar power satellite. It’s an important first step toward the first demonstration of space solar power in orbit, and [long time SBSP proponent John Mankins] says it could help solve what he sees as space solar power’s biggest problem: public perception. The technology has always seemed like a pie-in-the-sky idea, and the cost of setting up a solar array on Earth is plummeting. But space solar power has unique benefits, chief among them the availability of solar energy around the clock regardless of the weather or time of day.

It can also provide renewable energy to remote locations, such as forward operating bases for the military. And at a time when wildfires have forced the utility PG&E to kill power for thousands of California residents on multiple occasions, having a way to provide renewable energy through the clouds and smoke doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. (Ironically enough, PG&E entered a first-of-its-kind agreement to buy space solar power from a company called Solaren back in 2009; the system was supposed to start operating in 2016 but never came to fruition.)

“Illustration of One Version of the SPS-ALPHA Concept”. Credits: SPS-ALPHA NIAC study

See also

** Ntention‘s Astronaut Smart Glove tested at the Haughton Mars Project facility on remote Devon Island in northern Canada.

The NASA Haughton-Mars Project (HMP) and collaborating organizations SETI Institute, Mars Institute, NASA Ames Research Center, Collins Aerospace, and Ntention are announcing the successful field test of an “astronaut smart glove” for future human exploration of the Moon, Mars, and beyond. The smart glove is a prototype for a human-machine interface (HuMI) that would allow astronauts to wirelessly operate a wide array of robotic assets, including drones, via simple single-hand gestures.

Here is a video about the project:

Haughton-Mars Project (HMP) video showing the first field test of a prototype “Astronaut Smart Glove”, a human-machine interface (HuMI) and augmented reality (AR) spacesuit system for future Moon and Mars exploration. Filmed at Haughton Crater, Devon Island, High Arctic. Collaborating organizations: Mars Institute, SETI Institute, NASA Ames Research Center, Collins Aerospace, and Ntention.

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Space settlement roundup – Nov.14.2019

A sampling of recent articles, videos, and images related to human expansion into the solar system (see also previous space settlement postings):

** A settlement on Mars has always been the primary goal for SpaceX. The accelerating development of the Starship space transport system means that such a settlement is becoming more feasible and nearer in time. In fact, if the Starship space transport system achieves Elon Musk’s expectation of a $10-20/kg operating cost to reach low earth orbit, then all sorts of  space concepts previously considered distant future sci-fi become feasible.

A SpaceX vision of a Mars settlement built by people transported there by Starships.

Elon recently posted at on Twitter a series of comments about Starship capabilities and how it would enable Mars settlement:

  • In response to a remark about $20/kg flight costs with the Starship, Elon said,  “The economics have to be something like that to build a self-sustaining city on Mars
  • A thousand ships will be needed to create a sustainable Mars city
  • Payload to orbit per year of Starship fleet is most mind-blowing metric, as it’s designed to fly 3X per day, which is ~1000X per year
  • If we build as many Starships as Falcons, so ~100 vehicles & each does 100 tons to orbit, that’s a capacity of 10 million tons of payload to orbit per year
  • Current global payload to orbit capacity is about 500 tons per year, of which Falcon is about half
  • So it will take about 20 years to transfer a million tons to Mars Base Alpha, which is hopefully enough to make it sustainable
  • In response to a comment about whether the Starship  is needed so one can “escape if the earth is getting close to its end”, Elon said, “No, in the beginning, assuming you even make it there alive, Mars will be far more dangerous & difficult than Earth & take decades of hard labor to make self-sufficient. That’s the sales pitch. Want to go?”
  • And in response to the comment, “It’s not about escaping, it’s about survival of the species if one planet is wiped out”, Elon said, “Exactly! It’s also a far more exciting & inspiring future if consciousness is out there among the stars, than forever confined to Earth until some eventual extinction event, however far in the future that may be (hopefully, very far)

** SpaceX appears especially interested in the Arcadia Planitia region as a potential site for a space settlement: SpaceX completes 1st round of Starship’s Mars landing site images | Behind The Black

Based on all this research and the image locations being chosen by SpaceX, we therefore might someday hear a pilot of Starship take a breath and then announce to the world, “Arcadia Base here, the Starship has landed.”

Arcadia Planitia shown in top left of map made by the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter on NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor. Image via Wikipedia.

** Providing spin gravity with Starships on the way to Mars.

See the video caption for more details, discussion, and corrections.

** There were several presentations of in-space habitat designs at the recent SSI 50: The Space Settlement Enterprise conference in Seattle. Most  of the panel presentations are available via the SSI 50 Space Settlement conference videos.

Here are David Livingston’s subsequent  interviews with three of those habitat designers:

**** The Space Show – Mon, 10/28/2019 –  Anthony Longman discussed “his expandable rotating shielded space habitats”.

Longman works at Sky Frame Research, which collaborates with Prof. Robert Skelton at Texas A&M Aerospace Engineering Dept. They have used two NASA NIAC grants (Tensegrity Approaches to In-Space Construction | NASA) to pursue a habitat design that can start small and then grow over time: Building A Habitat For Sustainable Life In Space – Texas A&M Today

Model of the space habitat designed by Robert Skelton and partners. The design allows for the habitat to start small and grow. Image credits: Justin Baetge/Texas A&M Engineering.

He proposes to start the habitat at the size of 20 meters radius, enough to sustain about 20 people, with the final structure being built over time out to 225 meters, housing 8,000 people with 300 square meters of agricultural space per person.

The initial habitat would be small and built from materials launched from Earth. Because material resources are costly in space, Skelton suggests using tensegrity systems for the design of the growth adaptable space structure. These minimal mass structures make the habitat easy to change in shape, and it’s very strong and lightweight. Subsequent growth stages of the habitat would rely on tensegrity robots mining materials from the moon and asteroids.

With the overall shape of the habitat designed in concentric cylinders, the outer shell would be a thick-wall of regolith for radiation protection that would rotate slowly to enhance stability. Regolith is a layer of loose, heterogeneous superficial deposits covering solid rock found on Earth, the moon and asteroids. The habitat inside would spin at a faster rate to provide artificial gravity (due to the centrifugal forces) for the inhabitants inside. The habitat would provide all levels of gravity from 0 G to 1 G where the lower g-level space is reserved for agriculture and the people occupy higher g-levels up to 1 G.

**** The Space Show – Thu, 10/24/2019Suzana Bianco discussed “Space architecture and her concept designs for free space habitats and stations”. See the slides from her SSI conference presentation: New Venice – set 2019 (pdf).

“New Venice” space habitat designed by Suzana Bianco. Presented at Space Studies Conference 2019. (Slides pdf)

See also this essay by Bianco: How I designed a space outpost – Space Decentral – Medium.

**** The Space Show – Mon, 10/07/2019John Blincow gave a “complete and thorough introduction to The Gateway Foundation Project including the Von Braun station, space hotels, commercial operations, orbital manufacturing and assembly and more”.

The Gateway Foundation’s Youtube channel also has several videos describing the Von Braun station. For example,

** Bigelow Aerospace opened up B330 and B2100 expandable habitat prototypes to the press on Sept.12th:

** Improved spacesuits are needed are needed for modern space endeavors. ILC Dover, which designed and built Apollo spacesuits, has developed a line of Commercial Spacesuits that includes the “Astro™, the EVA (Extravehicular Activity) spacesuit, and Sol™, the LEA (Launch, Entry and Abort) spacesuit”.

ILC Dover introduces the Sol™ LEA (Launch, Entry and Abort) suit shown on the left and the Astro™ EVA suit on the right with life support module designed by Collins Aerospace.

Both Astro™ EVA and Sol™ LEA will be vital in moving forward with commercial space travel. Combining astronaut needs with an emphasis on safety, ILC Dover has created the next generation spacesuits.

Astro™ EVA and Sol™ LEA spacesuits are designed with an astronaut’s mission in mind. Astro™ EVA is equipped with the newly patented Hybrid Upper Torso to accommodate all astronauts. The Hybrid Upper Torso can be resized without tools, thereby minimizing EVA spacesuit inventory. In addition, the engineers placed the mobility joints where it matters, optimizing mobility without compromising weight. Sol™ LEA is a lightweight highly mobile all soft spacesuit providing astronauts a comfortable safe ride to and from space.

** NASA recently debuted suits in development for the Artemis lunar missions: A New Spacesuit for Artemis Generation Astronauts | NASA

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Videos: SSI 50 Space Settlement conference presentations

The Space Studies Institute is posting videos of the presentations and panel discussions at the recent SSI 50: The Space Settlement Enterprise conference held in Seattle.

Here are two videos of the initial panel session, which was titled Space Habitat Design:

  • Panel host Dallas Bienhoff of Cislunar Development Corp (at 00:05:20)
  • Bruce Pittman of Offworld Inc (at 00:13:00)
  • Robert Richards of Northrop Grumman (at 00:26:45)
  • Fred Scharmen of Morgan State University (at 00:38:40)
  • Suzanna Bianco of Space Cooperative and Space Decentral (at 00:47:50)
  • John Blincow of Gateway Foundation (at 01:01:45)
  • Al Globus of National Space Society and coauthor of The High Frontier An Easier Way (at 01:11:30)
  • Anthony Longman of Skyframe Research (at 01:32:20)

SSI has sponsored projects in exotic propulsion and Prof. Heidi Fearn talked about the Mach Effect Drive project, which has gotten NASA NIAC funding: SSI 50: Professor Heidi Fearn Mach Effect Drives Update | Space Studies Institute

SSI Senior Associate Professor Heidi Fearn of California State University Fullerton speaks at the lunch session of the SSI 50 gathering September 9th, 2019 st the Museum of Flight In Seattle.

Dr. Fearn who, along with SSI SA Dr. James Woodard, had just been featured in the August 2019 Issue of Scientific American, updates us on the status of the Exotic Propulsion Initiative.


The High Frontier: An Easier Way

Space settlement roundup – Aug.3.2019

A sampling of recent articles, videos, and images related to human expansion into the solar system:

** Purdue University unveils Cislunar Space Engineering Initiatives program:

Vision Statement The Purdue Engineering Initiative in Cislunar Space (Cislunar Initiative) will envision and enable the collaborative utilization of cislunar space to extend humanity’s reach throughout the solar system.

Mission Statement Cislunar Initiative will provide national leadership in the development of cislunar space. Through a process of exploration and discovery, Cislunar Initiative will expand access to space, identify and utilize space resources, advance the development of space policy, and grow the cislunar economy.

Check out the program’s Objectives, which include an “incubator program to provide seed funding for proposal development”, a Industry-University Consortium on Cislunar Development, and a Cislunar Education Program.

** In Swiss IGLUNA program, student teams built & demostrated prototype space habitats in a glacier near Zermatt in the Swiss Alps:

In the first ESA_Lab@ project, student teams across Europe develop modular demonstrators that combined will set the foundation for a living in space.

Ideas of the everyday life find their way out into space and return solutions for a better living on Earth. Brick by brick these technologies will create the cornerstones for a community expanding into space.

ESA_Lab@ with its network acts as coordinator providing the institutional link between all parties, system engineering, and IT infrastructure.

Supervised and supported by their university the student teams

    • materialise their demonstrators
    • establish their local partner and sponsors network
    • interact with other teams
From Sept. 2018 to July 2019,  20 student teams

… from 13 universities from 9 countries around Europe are collaborating in this project called “IGLUNA – A Human Habitat in Ice: Demonstrating key enabling technologies for life support in frozen worlds”;

Each student team develops their contribution during two academic semesters starting in September 2018 until June 2019;

From 17 June to 3 July 2019, the students will test their modules in a field campaign in a glacier in Zermatt, Switzerland;

The whole habitat which will be build inside the glacier cave in Zermatt will also be accessible for tourists and media;

The Swiss Space Center coordinates the project and serves as a coordinator for the events and main systems engineering activities.

An article about the EPFL (École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne) team’s participation in IGLUNA this year: Lunar mission deep in Zermatt’s ice – EPFL

At EPFL, students from several schools have been busy working on the project since September. The team, led by architect and lecturer Pierre Zurbrügg, built an igloo-like habitat 15 meters below the surface of the Klein Matterhorn glacier, which stands 3,883 meters above sea level. The structure, made from load-bearing and insulating materials, was designed and built by students from the School of Architecture, Civil and Environmental Engineering (ENAC) as part of the “Living on Mars” teaching unit. “We had to factor in the practical constraints of the IGLUNA field site,” explains Zurbrügg. “For instance, we needed to be able to transport the materials, assemble the habitat quickly, and work in temperatures of -4°C. We opted for a brick structure that’s relatively easy to assemble. It took just three days to build.”

** Enormous caverns beneath the lunar surface could offer excellent sites for early settlements: Living Underground on the Moon: How Lava Tubes Could Aid Lunar Colonization |

Researchers have identified “pits” on the moon, which are likely lava-tube “skylights” — geological doorways to underground tunnels that were once filled with lava.

If they do indeed provide access to lava tubes, skylights could be a game-changer for human lunar exploration, said NASA Chief Scientist Jim Green. Lava tubes are protected from the harsh environment of the lunar surface, which is bombarded by radiation and experiences temperature extremes. One lunar day lasts about 29 Earth days, meaning surface locations endure about two straight weeks of daylight followed by two weeks of darkness. 

** Special report Project Moon Base in IEEE Spectrum magazine includes numerous articles and infographics about “preparing to build the first permanent settlement in space”. For example,

** Water may be even more abundant on the Moon than previously indicated:

From David:

The polar regions of Earth’s Moon may contain significantly more water ice than previously thought, according to new research by space scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

Shoring up this belief are two decades of observations from telescopes and spacecraft, not of the Moon, but the planet Mercury. What’s been found are glacier-like water ice deposits near Mercury’s poles.

Why, despite their similar surface conditions, does our Moon have so much less ice than Mercury?

“The simple answer is that the Moon has lots of ice — it’s just buried below the surface,” said David Paige, a UCLA professor of planetary science and a co-author of the study.

The study, published July 22 in Nature Geoscience, points to the existence of previously undetected thick ice deposits on the Moon. It was led by Lior Rubanenko, a UCLA graduate student.

** An outline of how to overcome the hurdles to settling the Moon: How to build a moon base – The Conversation

Ultimately we have the technology to make a lunar base viable, but no amount of innovation can completely negate the risks involved. Whether such a base goes ahead or not will depend on this calculation perhaps more than any other. The question is whether we as a society have the stomach for lunar settlement, as well as lunar lettuce, or not.

** A commercial lunar EVA suit may fill a major gap in NASA’s plans for returning astronauts to the Moon :

Collins Aerospace unveiled a prototype of the Next Generation Space Suit system which could be used for excursions on the surface of the Moon. On Thursday, July 25th, a model demonstrated the ease of walking in the suit by trotting around the lobby of the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, DC and climbing up and down a few steps. The company claims that the suit is about half the weight of the original Apollo space suits. It’s supposed to be much more flexible, too, capable of fitting a wide range of body types from small Moon walkers to those well over six feet tall.

Collins Aerospace has a history of building space suits for NASA. The company collaborated with their longtime partner ILC Dover to build both the suits and attached life support systems currently used by astronauts on the International Space Station. Now the two companies want to show NASA that they have something the agency can use for their Moon-bound Artemis program, as well.

Next Generation Space Suit
Next Generation Space Suit system prototype from Collins Aerospace.

I’ll note that besides advanced space suits, there are many technologies (e.g. space tugs, fuel depots, in situ resource utilization systems, etc.)  needed for space settlement that NASA has not developed due to so much of the agency’s funding being diverted to the unneeded SLS rocket and Orion capsule projects. There would have been just as many jobs created to bring these essential in-space infrastructure components into operation as were created by the SLS/Orion jobs program but for a Congressional Swamp Kings a big boondoggle in-hand today is worth far more than dozens of small projects that will pay off richly in the future.

** Astrobotic & CMU to develop MoonRanger, a 13 kilogram autonomous rover to make sophisticated measurements of the lunar surface on missions starting in 2021-2022 time frame: Astrobotic Awarded $5.6 Million NASA Contract to Deliver Autonomous Moon Rover – Astrobotic

The MoonRanger rover enables a new paradigm of exploration autonomy pioneered by Professor Red Whittaker at Carnegie Mellon that is essential for exploring lunar pits, characterizing ice, investigating magnetic swirls, and deploying future mobile instruments on the lunar surface. Modest in size and mass, MoonRanger offers superb mobility at a light weight—ultimately equating to a more affordable flight platform. The rover will be a test platform for autonomy that will usher in a new era of operability in space.

“MoonRanger offers a means to accomplish far-ranging science of significance, and will exhibit an enabling capability on missions to the Moon for NASA and the commercial sector. The autonomy techniques demonstrated by MoonRanger will enable new kinds exploration missions that will ultimately herald in a new era on the Moon,” says Whittaker.

“This latest NASA award to develop MoonRanger for a mission to the Moon is another example of how Astrobotic is the world leader in lunar logistics. Our lander and rover capabilities are designed to deliver our customers to the Moon and allow them to carry out meaningful, low-cost activities for science, exploration and commerce,” says John Thornton, CEO of Astrobotic. MoonRanger joins Polaris and CubeRover as an additional offering that extends Astrobotic’s mobility as a service to customers across the world.

** Mining of M-type asteroid 16 Psyche could drastically lower the cost of many precious metals: The Golden Asteroid That Could Make Everyone On Earth A Billionaire |

Whether it was the Big Bang, Midas or God himself, we don’t really need to unlock the mystery of the origins of gold when we’ve already identified an asteroid worth $700 quintillion in precious heavy metals.

If anything launches this metals mining space race, it will be this asteroid–Psyche 16, taking up residence between Mars and Jupiter and carrying around enough heavy metals to net every single person on the planet close to a trillion dollars.

The massive quantities of gold, iron and nickel contained in this asteroid are mind-blowing. The discovery has been made. Now, it’s a question of proving it up.

As often pointed out in response to such articles, “massive quantities” going into the market would result in big drops in the prices of such metals. However, that is exactly the process that enriches our economies and raises our standard of living. The introduction of the Hall–Héroult process in the 1800s, for example, converted aluminum from an expensive precious metal into a low cost material that enabled innumerable technologies such as airliners and rust free siding.

It is important to remember than lowering the price of something is the same as giving out non-expiring gift cards that permanently discount the price of that thing.

** Spin tables to counteract zero gravity health effects: Artificial gravity breaks free from science fiction – University of Colorado Boulder

Ultimately, spacecraft on long distance voyages and in-space habitats will rotate to provide “spin gravity” that will eliminate the bad effects of zero gravity. In the meantime, however, daily high-g sessions on a spin table or similar compact rotating system may be sufficient to maintain good health.

This Colorado project investigated how to acclimate users to higher and higher spin rates without getting nauseous.

The team began by recruiting a group of volunteers and tested them on the centrifuge across 10 sessions.

But unlike most earlier studies, the CU Boulder researchers took things slow. They first spun their subjects at just one rotation per minute, and only increased the speed once each recruit was no longer experiencing the cross-coupled illusion.

“I present at a conference and everyone says, ‘she’s the one who spins people and makes them sick,’” Bretl said. “But we try to avoid instances of motion sickness because the whole point of our research is to make it tolerable.”

The personalized approach worked. By the end of 10th session, the study subjects were all spinning comfortably, without feeling any illusion, at an average speed of about 17 rotations per minute. That’s much faster than any previous research had been able to achieve. The group reported its results in June in the Journal of Vestibular Research.

** Domes of silica aerogel could make for comfortable environments for Mars settlements: A material way to make Mars habitable | Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

The researchers suggest that regions of the Martian surface could be made habitable with a material — silica aerogel — that mimics Earth’s atmospheric greenhouse effect. Through modeling and experiments, the researchers show that a two to three-centimeter-thick shield of silica aerogel could transmit enough visible light for photosynthesis, block hazardous ultraviolet radiation, and raise temperatures underneath permanently above the melting point of water, all without the need for any internal heat source.

More details in Enabling Martian habitability with silica aerogel via the solid-state greenhouse effect | Nature Astronomy

… Specifically, we demonstrate via experiments and modelling that under Martian environmental conditions, a 2–3 cm-thick layer of silica aerogel will simultaneously transmit sufficient visible light for photosynthesis, block hazardous ultraviolet radiation and raise temperatures underneath it permanently to above the melting point of water, without the need for any internal heat source. Placing silica aerogel shields over sufficiently ice-rich regions of the Martian surface could therefore allow photosynthetic life to survive there with minimal subsequent intervention. This regional approach to making Mars habitable is much more achievable than global atmospheric modification. In addition, it can be developed systematically, starting from minimal resources, and can be further tested in extreme environments on Earth today.


The Case for Space:
How the Revolution in Spaceflight Opens Up
a Future of Limitless Possibility

Space settlement roundup – June.19.2019

A sampling of recent articles, videos, and images related to the establishment of human settlements in the solar system:

Lunar resources:

** An interview with Astrobotic CEO John Thornton about the recent $79M contract awarded to the company by NASA to send payloads to the Moon in 2021 aboard the company’s robotic lander/rover: ” Sunday Business Page: Astrobotic 6/9/2019 – CBS Pittsburgh

** A program about Japan’s ispace, which has raised around $100M for lunar robotic missions: This private company will mine the moon – Orbit 12.19

Julien Lamamy from i-space joins us to talk their plans to make lunar transportation cheaper and more accessible, and begin using lunar resources.

Mars resources:

** NASA’s Mars 2020 Rover includes device to derive oxygen from Martian CO2:

Crazy Engineering explores a technology demonstration riding aboard NASA’s Mars 2020 rover that’s straight out of science fiction novels like “The Martian.” It’s an oxygen generator called MOXIE, designed to convert carbon dioxide — which constitutes about 96% of the Martian atmosphere — into breathable oxygen.

More at Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) – NASA Mars

** Perchlorate in Martian soil also can supply oxygen: Device seeks to brew oxygen on Mars from dangerous salt –

John Coates, a microbiologist at UC Berkeley, has patented a mechanism he says can turn the perchlorate into oxygen fit for humans. Throughout the development process, he consulted NASA scientists who see Coates’ invention as a partial answer to the oxygen issue, but not the entire solution.

“What happens if astronauts are 10 miles from home (base) and they have a big problem and need oxygen? That is the niche that the perchlorate would fill,” said Chris McKay, a planetary scientist at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View. “When you are (on Mars) out in middle of nowhere, scooping up a bag of dirt to produce oxygen would be easy to do.”

** SpaceX needs partners for development of Mars resources for settlements: SpaceX beginning to tackle some of the big challenges for a Mars journey | Ars Technica

… those things beyond building the rocket are critical. One of the key elements needed to make for a more cost-effective Mars mission is in-situ resource utilization, in which crew members use resources available on Mars to reduce the complexity of the mission—essentially living off the land. This was first proposed in the Mars Direct plan outlined by Martin Marietta, as it allows for a much smaller and cheaper mission. The primary benefit accrues from making the propellant for the return journey to Earth on Mars itself, reducing the cost of the mission significantly.

This is one area in which SpaceX is especially keen to find partners. “There are a lot of important aspects in producing the propellant for this vehicle,” Wooster said. The company has plans to do this on its own if it has to, but he said SpaceX would gladly allow others to assist. SpaceX is also seeking partners for critical needs such as power, habitats, science, food storage, and more. Beginning in September 2018, the company began to convene conferences to solicit advice and support in these areas.

** Dr. Robert Zubrin presented Mars Direct 2.0 at the recent ISDC 2019. The key feature of the Mars Direct approach is to maximize utilization of Martian resources to reduce as much as possible the amount of mass that needs to be delivered from Earth to sustain the first base on the Red Planet.

Asteroid resources:

** A University of Adelaide group is developing a solvent extraction process for asteroid mining that would reduce the support resources needed and make such mining more feasible economically: Asteroid mining edges closer with solvent extraction – The Engineer

The technique relies upon continuous-flow chemistry, where tailored combinations of solvents are mixed with asteroid material to harvest the precious metals contained within. According to the researchers, the process is scalable and can operate in zero gravity and vacuum conditions. Its capabilities are currently being trialled in-orbit following a May 4 launch coordinated in partnership with US firm Space Tango.

** NASA funds Mini Bee spacecraft to demo technology for extraction of water and other volatiles from asteroids:

NIAC normally focuses on paper studies but this unusual Phase III grant of $2M, along with $1M in private investment, will fund a hardware mission in low earth orbit.

This flight demonstration mission concept proposes a method of asteroid resource harvesting called optical mining. Optical mining is an approach for excavating an asteroid and extracting water and other volatiles into an inflatable bag. Called Mini Bee, the mission concept aims to prove optical mining, in conjunction with other innovative spacecraft systems, can be used to obtain propellant in space. The proposed architecture includes resource prospecting, extraction and delivery.

Apis™ is a breakthrough mission and flight system architecture designed to revolutionize NASA’s human exploration of deep space and to enable massive space industrialization and human settlement. Apis™ is enabled by Public Private Partnership (PPP) and a series of inventions including the Optical Mining™ method of asteroid resource harvesting, the Omnivore™ solar thermal thruster, and a spacecraft architecture that uses highly concentrated sunlight as a far lighter, less expensive, and higher performing alternative to electric power in space.” Credits: Joel Sercel, TransAstra Corporation

The Mini Bee mission will be carried out in partnership with sister company Momentus, which is developing in-space tugs that use water as propellant:

Mini Bee will use the Momentus Vigoride orbital shuttle spacecraft bus and fly into orbit as a piggyback on an ESPA ring launch to low Earth orbit along with a man made miniature asteroid which will be released into orbit separately from the Mini Bee. Mini Bee will chase down and capture the synthetic asteroid and demonstrate asteroid mining and water extraction along with high thrust water based propulsion.

Commercial space habitats:

** Bigelow Aerospace‘s posts “First Base” lunar settlement architecture and describes plans for ISS commercial activity. On the BA website and on Twitter, the company has posted descriptions and images of a design for a lunar base developed with the company’s expandable habitat modules:

A technique for protecting the habitats from radiation was described on June 17th:

More on our “First Base”: How do we help protect astronauts from radiation on the surface of the moon? Placing regolith over their heads has long been considered necessary but previous methods have not been practical. On the lunar surface, the simpler the construction the better.

Astronauts fill durable tubes with regolith. The tubes (~20 m long) are laced over the habitat to build a desired thickness. There is a simple approach to this placement. This approach to radiation protection doesn’t require moving parts. The astronauts perform the tube loading.

Outside of the habitat, an enclosed rover outfitted with water or other tiles provides much needed shielding on the lunar surface. The two person enclosed rover and the solar field are deployed from the two warehouses of “First Base”.

** And Robert Bigelow announced that his company has contracted SpaceX for Crew Dragon flights to take customers to the ISS. (Bigelow is proposing to NASA to attach a habitat to the station.): Bigelow Space Operations Announces it has Reserved up to Four Dedicated SpaceX Launches to the International Space Station – Bigelow Aerospace

On Friday, June 7, 2019 Bigelow Space Operations (BSO) announced that last September of 2018 BSO paid substantial sums as deposits and reservation fees to secure up to four SpaceX launches to the International Space Station (ISS). These launches are dedicated flights each carrying up to four people for a duration of one to possibly two months on the ISS.

BSO is excited about NASA’s announcements last Friday. BSO has demonstrated its sincerity and commitment to moving forward on NASA’s commercialization plans for the ISS through the execution of last September’s launch contracts. BSO intends to thoroughly digest all of the information that was dispersed last week so that all opportunities and obligations to properly conduct the flights and activities of new astronauts to the ISS can be responsibly performed.

In these early times, the seat cost will be targeted at approximately $52,000,000 per person.

The next big question is when is this all going to happen? Once the SpaceX rocket and capsule are certified by NASA to fly people to the ISS, then this program can begin.

As you might imagine, as they say “the devil is in the details”, and there are many. But we are excited and optimistic that all of this can come together successfully, and BSO has skin in the game.

** The Island Zero Alpha design for a first generation rotating station uses what appear to be Bigelow type of modules. The design was proposed a few years ago in a British Interplanetary Society sponsored study. (Item via Rocketeers):

Island Zero Alpha is an original space habitat design from the study group on space settlement in the British Interplanetary Society. Assembled and stationed in low Earth orbit, it is 115 metres in radius. The ring of habitat modules rotates at 2 rpm and this produces a pseudo-gravity of around 0.5g on the floor of the modules. The idea behind Island Zero Alpha is to move up to larger habitats than the International Space Station and to learn more about the effects of pseudo-gravity on humans in space. The station is expected to have a crew of around fifteen to twenty.

Other space settlement topics:

** Latest on the SSI 50: The Space Settlement Enterprise conference set for September 9-10 at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington: SSI 50: First Conference Panel Lineup Announced | Space Studies Institute

SSI (Space Studies Institute) was founded by the late Princeton professor Gerard O’Neill to pursue development of technologies that enable large in-space habitats. Here is an overview of such colonies: O’Neill colonies: A decades-long dream for settling space |

** Japanese project develops system for making electronic circuits in space: Succeeded in Prototyping Integrated Circuits (ICs) with a Small-Volume Production System (Minimal Fab) – JAXA and AIST paving the pathway to minimal fab-produced ICs aboard spacecraft – JAXA

AIST [National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology ] has built a fully automatic Minimal Fab system, which enables a circuit designer to manufacture a semiconductor device on his own by operating a series of manufacturing equipment. Maneuvered by a JAXA circuit engineer, the new system has proven itself and produced the above ICs.

These prototyping and operational demonstration have opened the way to manufacturing electronic devices aboard spacecraft with a Minimal Fab process, which is expected to broaden the applications of the new process.

** Expanding the garden on the ISS: NASA Testing Method to Grow Bigger Plants in Space | NASA

In an effort to increase the ability to provide astronauts nutrients on long-duration missions as the agency plans to sustainably return to the Moon and move forward to Mars, the Veg-PONDS-02 experiment is currently underway aboard the International Space Station.

The present method of growing plants in space uses seed bags, referred to as pillows, that astronauts push water into with a syringe. Using this method makes it difficult to grow certain types of “pick and eat” crops beyond lettuce varieties. Crops like tomatoes use a large amount of water, and pillows don’t have enough holding capacity to support them.

As an alternative to the pillows, 12 passive orbital nutrient delivery system (PONDS) plant growth units are being put through their paces. The PONDS units are less expensive to produce, have more water holding capacity, provide a greater space for root growth and are a completely passive system—meaning PONDS can provide air and water to crops without extra power.

The 21-day experiment is a collaboration between NASA, Techshot, Inc., the Tupperware Brands Corporation, fluids experts at NASA’s Glenn Research Center and Mark Weislogel at Portland State University. As a U.S. National Laboratory, the space station provides commercial companies and government agencies with the ability to test the experiment in a microgravity environment.

** Disabilities on earth may be advantages in space: In a recent presentation to the Future In-Space Operations (FISO) Working Group, Sheri Wells-Jensen of Bowling Green State University discussed what is and isn’t a disability in space: “Preparing to Survive: the Case for Disabled Astronauts and Colonists”:

And in a Sci-Am blog posting, she discussed the example of a blind crew member on a space station: The Case for Disabled Astronauts – Scientific American Blog Network

After all, in a serious accident, the first thing to go might be the lights! This generally means that the first thing a sighted astronaut must do for security is ensure visual access to the environment. He hunts for a flashlight, and if emergency lighting comes on, his eyes take a moment to adjust. Meanwhile, the blind astronaut is already heading toward the source of the problem. In the fire aboard the Russian Mir space station, in 1997, the crew struggled as smoke obscured their view. The blind astronaut, while still affected by the lack of good air, would not be bothered by either dim lighting or occluding smoke. She would accurately direct the fire extinguisher at the source of heat and noise.

** Another debate on where to focus initial space settlement efforts was held at the National Space Society‘s ISDC 2019 meeting:

** ET mega-space settlements: The Space Show – Fri, 05/31/2019 –  Dr. Greg Matloff and C. Bangs “discussed their book, Stellar Engineering, terrestrial & possible alien megastructures & concepts for advanced civilizations outside our solar system”.


Moon Rush: The New Space Race