Eric Berger Wins the National Space Society’s 2017 Space Pioneer Award for Mass Media

Eric BergerEric Berger, who is the senior space editor at Ars Technica, is the winner of the National Space Society’s 2017 Space Pioneer Award in the Mass Media category. This award will recognize the exemplary work he has done in the space news field for both Ars Technica, (a major technology news web site), and previously for the Houston Chronicle. It will be presented to him on May 29, 2017 at the National Space Society’s 2017 International Space Development Conference ( This will be the 36th ISDC and will be held in St Louis, Missouri, at the Union Station Hotel. The conference will run from May 25-29, 2017.

About the Space Pioneer Award

NSS Space Pioneer AwardThe Space Pioneer Award consists of a silvery pewter Moon globe cast by the Baker Art Foundry in Placerville, California, from a sculpture originally created by Don Davis, the well-known space and astronomical artist. The globe, as shown at right, which represents multiple space mission destinations and goals, sits freely on a brass support with a wooden base and brass plaque, which are created by the greatly respected Michael Hall’s Studio Foundry of Driftwood, TX. NSS has several different categories under which the award is presented each year, starting in 1988. Some of the recent winners of Space Pioneer Awards include Elon Musk, Ray Bradbury, Robert Bigelow, Apollo Astronaut Russell L. Schweickart, Dr. Michael Griffin, and the Rosetta Mission Team.

About Eric Berger

Eric Berger covers space business, space policy, space technology and other related areas such as astronomy. In the very fast paced field he is covering, his frequent, accurate and detailed articles and series have helped the space community keep track of what is happening, why and what the result may be. He is a good analyst and extrapolator as well as a reporter. He is not afraid to cover controversial topics, and that coverage is often invaluable. His articles are always technically accurate. He has an astronomy degree from the University of Texas, as well as a MA in journalism from the University of Missouri. In addition, he is a certified meteorologist. He lives in Houston, TX.

A Survey of Space Settlement Designs

The paper “A Survey of Space Settlement Designs” by Thomas Marotta has been just been published in the NSS Space Settlement Journal.


The author compiled every known orbital space settlement design into a database. Grouped into chronological ‘eras,’ the database describes basic information for each design: population capacity, dimensions, gravity level, energy source, etc. Using this information one can conclude that interest in space settlement is increasing, 1g is the preferred gravity level, solar power is the preferred energy source, and a torus is the preferred geometry. As for location, Earth-Moon Lagrange points dominate but there is a budding movement to place settlements in low Earth orbits. The database is accessible at

John Glenn and the New Glenn Rocket

Shortly before his death, John Glenn wrote the following letter to Jeff Bezos:


November 28, 2016

Mr. Jeff Bezos
Founder and Manufacturer
Blue Origin

Dear Jeff,

I’m really thrilled to congratulate you on winning the Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award for your historic achievement in rocketry with Blue Origin.

When I first orbited the Earth, in 1962, you were still two years from being born. And when I returned to space, in 1998, Blue Origin was still two years in the future. But you were already driven by a vision of space travel accessible not only to highly trained pilots and engineers and scientists, but to all of us. And you understood that to realize that vision, we would have to be able to get to space more often and more inexpensively. So you and your Blue Origin team began designing rockets that can be reused over and over again.

I’m deeply touched that you’ve named the second generation of those rockets—the first reusable rocket to orbit the Earth—the New Glenn. As the original Glenn, I can tell you I see the day coming when people will board spacecraft the same way millions of us now board jetliners. When that happens, it will be largely because of your epic achievements this year.

Again, my congratulations and best regards.

John Glenn


Here is a current photo of the 750,000 square-foot New Glenn rocket factory under construction in Florida:

New Glenn factory construction

Here is a rendition of what it will look like by the end of 2017:

New Glenn factory rendition

Here is a comparison of the size of the New Glenn compared to other large rockets:

New Glenn comparison

Celebrating the Life of National Space Society Governor and American Hero John Glenn

The National Space Society celebrates the life and contributions of the visionary champion of space exploration, Honorable Senator John Glenn, who passed away today.

“John Glenn was an inspiration for the National Space Society and all those who believe humanity’s destiny lies in the stars,” said Mark Hopkins, Chairman of the Executive Committee of NSS.

Hugh Downs, NSS Board of Governors Chair, said, “It was an honor to work with John Glenn as a member of the NSS Board of Governors. John had the courage of his convictions based on his knowledge of science. He did not fall for the myths that surrounded the medical risks of human space travel at the time. His understanding of the science was as important as his getting into the capsule and orbiting the Earth. It is hard to imagine today how important that was for the the U.S. at the time.”

Senator John Glenn served the National Space Society as a governor for over two decades. He was an advocate for a strong NASA along with the rest of the National Space Society. He appeared at the 2012 International Space Development Conference along with fellow astronaut Scott Carpenter where they both received the NSS Space Pioneer Award, for actually pioneering space!

Governors John Glenn and Art Dula, along with Scott Carpenter at ISDC 2012 in Washington, DC
NSS Governors John Glenn and Art Dula, along with Scott Carpenter at ISDC 2012 in Washington, DC

John H. Glenn was born on July 18, 1921, in Cambridge, Ohio. Following graduation from New Concord High School, Mr. Glenn enrolled in Muskingum College and began flying lessons at the New Philadelphia airport, earning his pilot’s license in 1941. He left college before earning his degree (he was awarded a bachelor of science in engineering from Muskingum in 1962) and enlisted in the Naval Aviation Cadet Program. He was commissioned in the Marine Corps in 1943. During his World War II service, Mr. Glenn flew 59 combat missions in the South Pacific.

During the Korean conflict, he flew 63 missions with Marine Fighter Squadron 311 and 27 missions as an exchange pilot with the Air Force. He holds the Air Medal with 18 Clusters for his combat service and has been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross on six occasions. He is the recipient of numerous other honors, including the Congressional Space Medal of Honor.

In 1959, he was selected to be one of seven NASA Mercury astronauts from an original pool of 508. Three years later, on February 20, 1962, he made history as the first American to orbit the Earth, completing three orbits in a five-hour flight and returning to a hero’s welcome.

After his NASA service, John took an active part in Democratic politics and early environmental protection efforts in Ohio. In 1974, he was elected to the U.S. Senate. Senator Glenn retired in 1998.

John Glenn

Mr. Glenn returned to space from Oct. 29 to Nov. 7, 1998, as a member of NASA’s Shuttle STS-95 Discovery mission during which the crew supported a variety of research payloads and investigations on space flight and aging. During that mission, Mr. Glenn made 134 Earth orbits in 213 hours and 44 minutes.

Mr. Glenn has been married to Anna (Annie) Margaret Castor since 1943. They have a son, Dave, and a daughter, Lyn, and two grandchildren.

John F. Kennedy once said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” We at NSS have no doubt that American Hero John Glenn heeded that call.

Enterprise In Space & Kepler Space Institute Sponsor Competition to Tackle Orbital Debris

Enterprise In Space (EIS), a non-profit program of the National Space Society (NSS), and the Kepler Space Institute have partnered with Global Aerospace Corporation (GAC) to launch the “Orbital Debris Mitigation” competition. In order to drive innovation forward in technology to remove the space debris orbiting Earth, EIS and its partners are offering university student teams a chance to propose experiments for space debris mitigation.


To enter the contest, university student teams may submit a white paper in either one of two competition categories. Category one is to design an experiment that fits on a CubeSat to detect, track or collect orbital debris. The second is to design an experiment to help evaluate the performance of GAC’s Gossamer Orbit Lowering Device (GOLD) that will de-orbit a CubeSat. To learn more about the competition, see the video presentation: .

“Currently, there are over 500,000 pieces of space debris orbiting the Earth and traveling up to 17,500 miles per hour, potentially causing serious damage to any satellite or spacecraft,” said Kerry Nock, President of GAC. “At GAC, we have invented a device for removing this debris called GOLD which uses a lightweight, continuously inflated envelope to increase the drag area and accelerate the natural orbital decay process of antiquated satellites and large orbital debris by orders of magnitude.”

Up to three members of the grand prize winning team will receive complimentary registration to present their white papers at the National Space Society’s International Space Development Conference ® (ISDC), May 25-29, 2017 in St. Louis, Missouri. Grand prize winners will have their experiment results paper published in Ad Astra magazine and an industry trade journal for orbital space debris mitigation and remediation. One member of the grand prize team will also receive an R. S. Kirby Memorial Scholarship, valued at $5,000, from the Kepler Space Institute to be applied towards a full certificate program. The R. S. Kirby Memorial Scholarship aims to encourage space advocates the world over.

To learn more about the Orbital Debris Mitigation Competition or to enter, visit the contest page at and become a part of NewSpace future.

National Space Society Presidential Policy Workshop Leaders Urge Incoming Administration to Lead Lunar Base Construction

On Saturday, October 8th, the National Space Society (NSS) organized a workshop directed at recommending a space policy to the new Administration. Eleven thought leaders from government, industry, and academia gathered in a fruitful collaboration to produce a set of five recommendations.

Steve Jurvetson, a partner at the well-known Silicon Valley Sand Hill Road venture capital firm DFJ hosted the meeting at the DFJ offices. NSS has submitted the resulting white paper to the Trump Transition Team. The paper can be viewed at

“NSS is proud to support this important workshop,” said Dale Skran, NSS Executive Vice President. “We had a very extensive collaboration bringing together space entrepreneurs, scientists, engineers, and space activists to develop space policy recommendations for the new Administration.”

As a result of this workshop, the National Space Society calls upon the Trump Administration to:

  1. Re-establish a National Space Council.
  2. Establish a thriving space economy as a goal of NASA and implement this goal via public-private partnerships, including the purchase in-space of fuel mined from the lunar surface/asteroids, and the use of commercial services to supply future space projects on and near the Moon.
  3. Lead in the construction of a public/private lunar resource extraction base that includes international participation.
  4. Set up a space commodities futures trading exchange to jump start the use of space resources.
  5. NASA should conduct break-through R&D targeted at projects such as self-sustaining habitats in space, propellant production and storage (at the Moon, at small bodies, and at Mars), in situ manufacturing (Moon, small bodies, Mars), reusable large-scale solar electric or nuclear propulsion systems, space solar power (SSP), and others.
“The space paradigm is changing at an accelerating pace,” said Mark Hopkins, Chairman of the Executive Committee of NSS. “The dramatic progress in commercial space calls for new thinking about why and how we explore, develop and eventually settle space,” he said.

Hold these dates! March 12-16, 2017 for March Storm

The Alliance for Space Development (ASD), the National Space Society (NSS), and the Space Frontier Foundation (SFF) are sponsoring the annual March Storm Washington DC Blitz March 12-16, 2017. This is an early “heads up” to hold those dates. Sunday March 12 will be an all-day training event, followed by up to four days of Congressional visits.  Blitzers are asked to commit to a minimum of 2 days of Congressional visits, but those days can be picked from among March 13-16.

March Storm 2017 will support the Alliance for Space Development 2017 objectives, which will be available January 1st, 2017. However, it is very likely that at least two of the objectives will be supporting a gapless transition from the ISS to future commercial LEO stations, and continuing to to press for the Space Exploration, Development, and Settlement Act (H.R. 4752) to make space development and settlement a permanent part of the NASA mission.

NSS working to influence the next Administration

On Saturday October 8th, 2016, NSS organized a workshop directed at recommending a space policy to the new Administration. Steve Jurvetson, a partner at the well-known Sand Hill Road venture capital firm DFJ hosted the meeting at the DFJ offices. Eleven thought leaders from government, industry, and academia gathered in a fruitful collaboration to produce a set of five recommendations. NSS Senior VP Bruce Pittman organized the meeting, which included a tour of Steve Jurvetson’s private museum of space artifacts.

The resulting paper, which has been submitted to the Transition Team, is reproduced below (also available is a PDF version).


Tremendous progress has been made in the commercial space arena since the last presidential transition in 2008. To ensure that the impact of these changes is adequately reflected in U.S. space policy the National Space Society (NSS) assembled a hand-picked group of experts to prepare recommendations for the incoming administration. This group met at the venture capital firm DFJ in Menlo Park California on Saturday Oct. 8th 2016.  After a full day of discussion and deliberation, five major recommendations – focused on commercial space – were agreed upon.

Recommendation #1 – Reestablish the National Space Council

In 2008 the Obama campaign stated “There is currently no organization in the Federal government with a sufficiently broad mandate to oversee a comprehensive and integrated strategy and policy dealing with all aspects of the government’s space-related programs, including those being managed by NASA, the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, the National Reconnaissance Office, the Commerce Department, the Transportation Department and the other federal agencies.” We recommend that the U.S. Government re-establish a National Space Council (NSC). The chair of the National Space Council should be appointed by and report to the President, and advise the President on space policy topics including NASA Administrator candidates.

There are a number of space related challenges that the next Administration will have to address, including orbital debris, the militarization of space, space situational awareness and traffic management, international cooperation, and competition to name just a few.  The goal of the re-established National Space Council will be to oversee and coordinate civilian, military, commercial, and national security space activities. The NSC should solicit public participation, work with commercial entities, engage the international community, and develop a 21st century vision of space that will continuously push the envelope on new technologies and new applications, as well as promote American space leadership and security.

Recommendation #2 – Enable and Support a Thriving Space Economy

For the exploration, development and eventual settlement of space to be truly sustainable, there must be a viable space economy to support it. We recommend that the U.S. Government establish that one of NASA’s goals should be to facilitate and promote a thriving space economy. A recent (9/15) report by the Tauri Group for the Satellite Industries Association showed the worldwide market for all satellite services in 2014 to be $203 billion, of which the U.S. portion was 43% ($87.2 billion); however, the U.S. growth rate (2%) was significantly below the international growth rate (6%).[i]  There are a number of other emerging space markets in Earth observation, low Earth orbit (LEO) communications, and microgravity processing that have the potential to grow to be as large if not larger than the geostationary Earth orbit (GEO) communication satellite economy, with proper support from the federal government.

In 2015 United Launch Alliance (ULA) presented their “Cis-Lunar 1000” view of the potential for space development growth over the next 30 years. Their estimate was that the space economy could expand from its current $330 billion to $2.7 trillion by 2045.[ii] To make this projection a reality, the U.S. Government will need to play a vital but different role than it has traditionally fulfilled. The use of public/private partnerships as exemplified by the NASA Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program and its use of funded Space Act Agreements (SAA) must become the norm instead of the exception. By aligning public and private strategic goals, dramatic financial leverage can be developed. A 2011 analysis of the development cost of the Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) Falcon 9 launch vehicle that was developed for the NASA COTS program was conducted by the office of the NASA Deputy Associate Administrator for Policy using the NASA/Air Force Costing Methodology (NAFCOM) computer modeling tool. This analysis showed an almost 10X cost reduction using the funded SAAs that were utilized by COTS as compared to the normal NASA cost plus contracts that are typically signed ($400 million for actual SpaceX Falcon 9 development vs $3.977 billion cost predicted by NAFCOM under a cost plus contract scenario).[iii]

Another key government initiative supporting commercialization of space was the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) program. While COTS and the SAAs were utilized to demonstrate the capability to delivery cargo to the ISS, the CRS was a fixed price procurement contract for the actual delivery of payloads to the ISS over multiple years. The CRS contracts that were awarded to both COTS winners in an open competition allowed the two companies (SpaceX and Orbital/ATK) to raise the money required to pay for their significant share of the COTS development costs. This example of NASA acting as an anchor customer to help establish new commercial capabilities and new markets demonstrates the key role that the government can and must play to ensure U.S. space leadership.

There are three ways that SAAs and public-private partnerships can be used to advance the commercialization of space:

  • NASA should produce a plan to transition the ISS National Laboratory from the ISS to leased space in commercial LEO stations, and to assist new space businesses that use the ISS in a similar transition. As part of this transition plan, a goal should be to increase the quality, quantity, and variability of gravity levels available in which to conduct research and manufacturing activities. This policy will support the emerging LEO commercial sector.
  • NASA should purchase rocket fuel and oxygen/water to use at any location in space (LEO, GEO, BEO) from commercial entities if such commodities are commercially available. This policy will encourage the nascent asteroid and lunar mining industries, as well as lower the cost of an eventual journey to Mars.
  • NASA bases/gateways/stations in any location in space, including the lunar surface, lunar orbit, and others, should contract with commercial services to provide cargo and crew to such stations. This policy will enable the development of economic and reusable cislunar transportation, and will support goals such as #3 below and an ultimate journey to Mars.

Recommendation #3 – Establish a Public/Private Lunar Base

There are a number of scientific and commercial reasons for returning to the Moon. Scientifically the Moon offers a treasure trove of information about the early formation of the solar system and its evolution. We now know that there are huge quantities of water ice in the permanently shadowed craters at the lunar poles, and this water has great interest not only to the scientific community who want to understand how it got there, but also to the space resources companies who want to explore the feasibility of harvesting water as a resource and offering it for sale to help facilitate the exploration, development and eventual settlement of the solar system. This water can be used for growing crops as well as drinking and for a number of industrial purposes. The water can also be separated into hydrogen and oxygen for use as rocket propellant and the oxygen can be used for life support.

The International Space Exploration Coordination Group (ISECG) is a collaboration of 14 space agencies working cooperatively to coordinate the activities of the member countries to facilitate the exploration of the solar system. Almost all of the members of the ISECG except for the U.S. have set their sights on human and robotic exploration of the Moon first and then expanding outwards to Mars. Earlier this year ESA Director General Johann-Dietrich proposed that the world should collaborate to create a permanent lunar base that he is calling the “Moon Village” which could support science, business, tourism and even mining.[iv]

We recommend that the U.S. Government take a leadership role in establishing a lunar base focused on the extraction of lunar resources. This should be undertaken as a public/private partnership with commercial companies who have already set their sights on the Moon such as Astrobotic, Moon Express and Masten Space Systems, all of which are currently participating in the NASA Lunar Catalyst program. ULA’s previously mentioned CisLunar 1000 concept lays out their plan for developing their ACES/XEUS space tug and lunar lander such that both vehicles can be refueled from resources mined from Lunar ice deposits. By partnering with these companies (and others) that already want to develop the Moon, as well as our international partners, the cost of a lunar base could be dramatically reduced. Key components of such a base might be owned and operated by NASA or international partners, but other elements would be owned and operated by commercial enterprises. [v]

Recommendation #4 – Create a Space Commodities Futures Trading Exchange

In order to create and sustain a thriving space economy it will be necessary to be able to buy and sell commodities that are assembled, produced or mined in space. To facilitate this process, we recommend that the U.S. Government establish a Space Commodities Futures Trading Commission (SCFTC) for the space industry. The Commission, with input from industry, academia and government, would establish the guidelines to enable a board of trade or designated market-maker to establish and operate an exchange or alternative exchange mechanism (collectively, the Exchange). The Exchange would design, standardize and trade in the future commitments to deliver goods, services or other units constituting the various commodities necessary to get to, operate within, and return from space (e.g. launch, water, energy, insurance and currency). The Exchange would be a private or public-private entity with primary responsibility for operating all aspects of the market operations. The SCFTC would be responsible for oversight, space commodities forecasting, futures contract enforcement, clearing and risk, and mediation.

  • The Exchange would create a standardized set of agreements for the exchange of commodities, such that the tenure of ownership of the commodities could be readily ascertained.
  • The federal government would refer to the Exchange for the acquisition of commodities it regulates through the SCFTC, and would prototype futures contracts for acquisition of commodities it would like to stimulate supply of, and that could be offered through the Exchange.
  • The federal government shall recognize the commercial viability of any commodity listed on the Exchange as prima facie evidence in satisfying federal acquisition requirements for the proof of commercial viability in order to develop the science, technology and production that would supply the commodity.

In order to benefit from and coordinate with terrestrial experience, history and financial practices in trading commodities futures, consideration would be given to having the SCFTC operate as part of, or via strategic partnership with, the Commodities Futures Trading Commission codified at 7 U.S.C. Chapter 1, as amended.

Recommendation #5 – Establish a Major Breakthrough Space R&D Program Throughout its history NASA has always been associated with major technological advancements, from the Saturn 5 that took American astronauts to the Moon, to the remarkably versatile, reusable but complex space shuttle, to the International Space Station that has been permanently occupied for 16 years. No technological challenge seemed to be too great during this period. But recently, NASA’s technological reach has been significantly reduced, and very few breakthrough technologies and/or capabilities now emerge from the agency’s far more conservative and fiscally constrained endeavors

We recommend that the U.S. Government enable NASA to return to its cutting edge technology roots by establishing a significant ($1 billion/year) Breakthrough Technology R&D program focused on providing the new capabilities and dramatic cost reductions to the aerospace industry that have been achieved in almost all other industries. Commercial companies, often backed by significant venture capital investments, are increasingly leading in the development of the cutting edge technologies required by our 21st century space program. NASA needs to team with these companies to encourage and mature selected technologies that can best enable ambitious future NASA missions. The establishment of an innovative and long term Breakthrough Technology R&D program, one that focuses on high risk but high payoff technology development and demonstration, would help not only NASA, but commercial space suppliers and users as well. This is similar to the role that the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) played in the last century to ensure U.S. leadership in aviation.

This program should be “DARPA-like” in that it takes on true game-changing challenges with specific objectives and a requirement for measurable progress to receive phased funding. Examples of the types of breakthrough capabilities that might be targeted include self-sustaining habitats in space, propellant production and storage (at the Moon, at small bodies, and at Mars), in situ manufacturing (Moon, small bodies, Mars), reusable large-scale solar electric or nuclear propulsion systems, space solar power (SSP), and others. These technologies must be matured to the point where system and/or flight proven technology (TRL 6/7 or higher) can be incorporated into future NASA and/or U.S. commercial ventures.

Bruce Cahan, CEO Urban Logic and Adjunct Professor Stanford University School of Engineering

Sarah Cooper, former research fellow National Space Grant Association at NASA AMES

John Cumbers, Founder, SynBioBeta

Jason Dunn

Daniel Faber, CEO Deep Space Industries

Mark Hopkins, Chairman of the Executive Committee, National Space Society

Jim Keravala, CEO OffWorld Consortium

John Mankins, CEO Artemis Innovation

Bruce Pittman, Senior Vice President and Senior Operating Officer, National Space Society and Chairman, Commercial Space Group, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics

Rod Pyle, Author

Dale Skran, Executive Vice President, National Space Society

[i] 2015 State of the Satellite Industry Report prepared by The Tauri Group, Sept. 2015





A Radically Easier Path to Space Settlement

By Al Globus

Copyright © 2016 Al Globus
Published in the French language magazine Diplomatie
PDF version of this article

Very smart and capable people have been dreaming about space settlement for decades, but these dreams have not come to fruition. Why? Because building space settlements is extraordinarily difficult. There are two ways to overcome this: a lot of money or an easier way. An enormous pile of government money doesn’t seem to be headed our way, but it turns out there is a much easier way.

The location of the usual space settlement suspects includes the Moon, Mars, asteroids, and the Earth-Moon L5 point (or other high Earth orbit). They all suffer from one very serious problem: they are very far away, anywhere from 363,000 to 400,000,000 km from Earth. This makes everything we want to do extremely difficult.

All space settlements need pressurized habitat, power systems, thermal control, communications, life support, materials recycling, and radiation shielding. As radiation levels in space are high compared with Earth, the mass of the radiation shielding completely dominates the mass of most space settlement designs because inadequate shielding can lead to cancer, cataracts, and sterility. In orbits beyond Earth’s magnetic field, radiation protection requires about seven tons of water, or eleven tons of lunar regolith, per square meter of hull and a little bit less on the surface of Mars or the Moon. This amounts to millions of tons of material for a settlement big enough that people might actually enjoy living in it once the excitement of moving to space wears off, perhaps 100 m across at least. If the radiation shielding was not needed space settlement would be vastly easier. [See “Orbital Space Settlement Radiation Shielding,” Al Globus and Joe Strout, preprint, June 2016, which contains data and references for radiation related claims in this article.]

Figure 1. Radiation measurements taken on the ISS (International Space Station). Note the very low levels (blue) near the equator, which is on the horizontal line starting at 0 on Latitude scale. Image credit NASA.
Figure 1. Radiation measurements taken on the ISS (International Space Station). Note the very low levels (blue) near the equator, which is on the horizontal line starting at 0 on Latitude scale. Image credit NASA.

It is our incredibly good luck that there is a region of space, very close to Earth, where radiation levels are much, much lower than at the usual suspects. This is Low Earth Orbit (LEO) directly over the equator (or ELEO)—see figure 1. The Earth’s magnetic field protects this region from all but a small fraction of space radiation, albeit the most energetic part. Radiation levels are so low that below about 500 km it is possible, even likely, that no dedicated radiation shielding will be necessary. This means that a 100 m diameter cylindrical settlement in ELEO might have a mass of around 8.5 kTons, hundreds of times less than above the Earth’s magnetic field. [See “Space Settlement: an Easier Way,” by Al Globus, Stephen Covey, and Daniel Faber, June 2016, which contains data and references for settlement related claims in this article.] This entire mass could be launch by about 160 Falcon Heavy launches. This is not for a few capsules connected by tunnels, but an open living area comparable in size to a large cruise ship with zero-g recreation at the axis of rotation, full 1-g pseudogravity just inside the hull, and recreational space walks.

Figure 2. Artist concept of a small early space settlement. Note the curvature necessary to generate pseudogravity by rotation. Image credit Bryan Versteeg.
Figure 2. Artist concept of a small early space settlement. Note the curvature necessary to generate pseudogravity by rotation. Image credit © Bryan Versteeg.

If you are familiar with free space settlement issues you might object that to get Earth-normal pseudogravity with a 100 m diameter you need to rotate a settlement at about four rpm (revolutions per minute), which will make many people sick. That is true, but it is also true that people adapt to rotation at four rpm within a few hours or days and are subsequently just fine. If you were to move to Nepal you would be altitude sick for a few days, but Nepal is still a beautiful place to live. [See “Space Settlement Population Rotation Tolerance,” Al Globus and Theodore Hall, preprint, June 2015, which contains data and references for human response to rotation claims in this article.]

You might also note that most Mars/Lunar settlement schemes involve putting a module on the Martian/Lunar surface with far less than 160 launches. But that’s for a module a few meters across, similar to vehicles that have been in LEO off and on since the 1960s and much smaller than the ISS which has been continuously inhabited since 2000. For a given size, the total mass of the material needed from Earth for early ELEO vs Mars/Lunar settlements is about the same. Low radiation levels in ELEO mean settlements there require little or no radiation shielding. Although radiation levels on the Martian/Lunar surface are high, about half that in free-space, local materials can be used for radiation shielding. However, Mars/Lunar residents will rarely leave their habitat due to the radiation and LEO development will continue to be far ahead because LEO is at least 100,000 times closer than Mars and 720 times closer than the Moon giving ELEO a massive logistical advantage.

While space settlement may be vastly easier to get started in ELEO than anywhere else, it is still a massive task. Launch vehicle prices need to come down by a factor of perhaps 50, reliable nearly-closed large-scale life support must be developed, and a million engineering problems must be solved so that people can live comfortably, safely, and enjoyably in space. Absent a gigantic pile of government money, how can this been done? One word: tourism.

Tourism can supply the two things essential to market-driven equatorial LEO settlement development:

  1. A very high flight rate to make fully reusable launchers economically viable. We estimate at least > 10,000 flights per year is needed, compared to < 100 today.
  2. A market for ever larger and more sophisticated space hotels starting with the ISS.

Seven paying tourists have flown to the ISS (one twice) on a 7-10 day trip, but right now no seats are for sale. Rumor has it that the first few space tourists paid about $20 million and the most recent flight was on the market for $50 million. While this is discouraging (the price is absurdly high and headed in the wrong direction) surveys suggest that if someone could drop the price a bit, much larger numbers of people would want to go.

The good news is that the best advertised price to fly to LEO so far is $26.25 million, although the vehicle is still in development. If this is successful and makes a profit, as more flights are booked economies of scale can reduce the price, which in turn increases the size of the market, which enables a reduction in price, which increases the size of the market … and so on. We need to get on this virtuous spiral of dropping costs leading to bigger markets leading to lower cost. If the cost is low enough the market is measured in millions of customers per year, which is the sort of market needed for the kind of low-cost high-flight-rate transportation system necessary to settle space regardless of destination.

All those tourists need somewhere to go, meaning we will need space hotels. The first ones may be small to keep up-front costs down but if space tourism is successful the desire for bigger, more sophisticated, and more comfortable hotels could drive constant improvement.

As luck would have it, most of what is needed for ELEO settlements is also important for hotels: recycled air, water, and food, power systems, communications with Earth, etc. Hotels may even want artificial gravity, achieved by rotation, so that guests need not learn how to use a 0-g toilet—which is difficult and, when you screw up, disgusting as everything floats around and gets into places you would rather it not. Also, staff can have longer tours of duty, reducing transportation costs, as their bodies will not be continuously subject to weightlessness, which can cause a number of problems. Once hotels have developed most of the necessary technology and supporting infrastructure, building the first space settlement should be not much more difficult than building another hotel.

The first settlement in ELEO might look something like Kalpana Two:

Image credit: Bryan Versteeg.
Image credit © Bryan Versteeg.

In an internet survey of space enthusiasts, 30% of respondents said they would very much like to live in Kalpana Two in ELEO, including raising their children, and are willing to spend 75% of their wealth and lifetime income to do so. That’s enough to get space settlement started.

Although building Kalpana Two after a few decades of space tourism development may be much easier than starting from scratch, it is still a monumental effort requiring a great deal of money and those funds will be easier to raise if Kaplana Two and later settlements have a mass-market product to sell to Earth.

Kalpana Two residents could assemble and test extremely large communication satellites, much larger than those launched today. Large comsats are attractive because the larger the spacecraft antenna and the larger the power-producing solar arrays the smaller the antenna on the ground must be and the less battery power is needed, two things for which there is a large and growing market. ELEO is also a good place to manufacture ultra-light solar sails, as the sails need not be folded into a fairing, launched and unfolded. While the market for solar sails is small, if you cover one side of the sail with power-producing electronics you have extremely light power arrays which can be used for large comsats. Put fiber lasers on the other side of the sail and you can beam power, first for in-space applications, such as power for Kalpana Two, and later to deliver power to Earth—a gigantic market. [See “Towards an Early Profitable PowerSat,” Al Globus, Space Manufacturing 14: Critical Technologies for Space Settlement, NASA Ames Research Center, Mountain View, CA, October 29-31, 2010, and “Towards an Early Profitable PowerSat, Part II,” Al Globus, Ion Bararu, and Mihai Radu Popescu, International Space Development Conference 2011, National Space Society, Huntsville, Alabama, 1822 May, 2011.]

The first equatorial LEO settlement is the hardest to build. The second and subsequent ones will be easier because lessons will be learned and infrastructure developed. We estimate there is room for at least a few million people spread out in a few hundred settlements in equatorial LEO. This can provide the key requirement for commercially viable lunar and asteroid mining: a decent sized market in space. It is hard for extraterrestrial materials to compete on Earth due to transportation costs. However, in space lunar and asteroidal materials have the edge due to high launch costs from Earth. The problem today is that the in-space market is a single satellite designed for in-space refurbishment (the Hubble Space Telescope) and six people on the ISS, which is tiny. Equatorial LEO settlement is a game changer for lunar and asteroidal mining.

Once the mining infrastructure to deliver substantial materials to equatorial LEO is in operation and ELEO fills up with settlements, it will be time for the next step: settlements in orbit beyond the Earth’s protective magnetic field. These settlements will require millions of tons of radiation shielding, which can provide a market for a huge expansion of lunar and asteroidal mining. This, in turn, can provide economic support for mining settlements on the Moon and co-orbiting with asteroids. This network of settlements can then expand to Mars and the asteroid belt. Of course, for Mars and the Moon the problems associated with raising children in partial-g including but not limited to growing up with weak muscles and bones will have to be addressed.

At this point we will be well on our way to turning the resources of this solar system into living, breathing settlements in huge numbers. The next step, of course, is to send groups of settlements to Alpha Proxima and start the billion-year project of greening our galaxy. After all, if you have lived for 50 generations in orbital space settlements does it matter much if you are close to Sol or on the way to the nearest star? Probably not, at least for some, but that is a task for future generations. Our mission, should we decide to accept it, is to get space tourism on track to develop the technology and infrastructure necessary to build Kalpana Two in equatorial LEO. This tape will not self-destruct.

Al Globus is a member of the National Space Society Board of Directors.