Orbital Space Settlement Tasks

People often ask me what they can do to help build the first orbital space settlements. There are two categories, Advocacy and Technical.


  • Talk about space settlements. Right now, space settlements are not really part of the national or global dialogue. The first task before us is to change that. Space settlement will require an enormous amount of work, and nobody will do that work if they aren't at least familiar with the concept.
  • For the same reason, write articles, letters to the editor, blogs, letters to politicians, web sites, technical papers, etc., etc. about orbital space settlement.
  • Create animations, videos, and images explaining orbital space settlement concepts. Spread them around the web.
  • Get celebrities to say nice things about space settlement.
  • Join your favorite space organization. I'm on the board at the NSS but there are other worthy organizations as well.


    Here's a laundry list, in no particular order, of tasks you might take on. A dedicated individual or small team should be able to do most of these. I'd be happy to work with you on any of them! If you are serious about working on any of these, contact me at my gmail account, AlGlobus.

  • Develop a teleoperated space robot simulator. Building large space structures, such as settlements and solar power satellites, will require an enormous amount of work done in a vacuum. It would be best for robots to do most of this work. For Earth orbit, where initial work will probably be done, these robots could be teleoperated from Earth. The project: develop a software simulator where people can try out teleoperated and automated construction of large space structures.
  • What is the smallest space settlement people would be happy living in? To get at this, try asking people what the smallest island they'd like to live on would be. Tell them they can have pretty much anything they want on the island, but it needs to be as small as possible. For those who like cruise ships, substitute 'cruise ship' for 'island.' There is at least one cruise ship where people buy berths rather than just rent them for a week or two. It's sort of a floating settlement. Best: ask a lot of people these questions and keep track of their answers. Could make an interesting paper.
  • Find the lowest Earth orbit where a space settlement will not enter the Earth's atmosphere for at least 100 years without reboost, but which does not have excessive radiation. This is probably the best place to build the first settlement for the simple reason that it's close to Earth. Click here for more detail.
  • Determine the amount of shield necessary to reduce radiation levels inside a settlement to a level comparable to the highest-radiation cities on Earth.
  • Develop methods for returning smallish asteroids (40-100m radius) to Earth orbit to supply materials for settlement construction. Test these methods in computer simulations. Note: NASA is proposing to do this with a 5-10m diameter asteroid.
  • Develop methods for teleoperation of lunar mining facilities. Test these methods in computer simulation.
  • Develop a space settlement app.
  • Develop an on-line an space settlement quiz. I can provide the questions and answers if you can do the software.
  • Design and simulate a facility in orbit that can ingest a small asteroid, reduce it to small particles, and package those particles in bags suitable for use as radiation shielding for human occupied spacecraft. Note that the small asteroid is placed enirely inside the facility.
  • Make and test a small piece of the sail proposed in: or do a redesign based on the L'Garde/NASA Sunjammer solar sail design currently scheduled for a 2015 launch. This design would use the L'Garde sunjammer design but add thin film solar cells and fiber lasers for power generation. Also, estimate the performance of such a system.
  • Find and characterize the best places on Earth to implement laser-based space solar power. Note that laser power generally cannot get through clouds, so this is a search for areas with very low annual cloud cover.
  • Do research into closed ecological life support systems by placing small amounts of soil, plants, and microbes in sealed jars. See how long they can survive with just sunlight coming in.
  • Take a look at SPS-ALPHA: The First Practical Solar Power Satellite via Arbitrarily Large Phased Array. John C. Mankins. This design has many mirrors that direct sunlight to solar cells. It is not obvious how to tilt the mirrors as the relative location of the satellite and the sun change. I think one can study this issue using ray tracing software. Look here for thoughts on how to do this.

    Kalpana One

    Kalpana One is a (relatively) new space settlement design. See the papers links here for details of what's been done so far.

    How to Read Papers that are Too Hard for You

    When doing research in an area you aren't familiar with, you will frequently need to read papers that seem impossible to understand. Here's how to do it. Start at the beginning and just read. When you hit a word you don't understand, go to Google (or your favorite search engine) and look it up. Keep reading until you are completely baffled and have no idea what is going on. Stop. Go back to the beginning of the paper and start over. You will usually find that you get further the second time. Keep starting over from the beginning until you can read the whole paper. If you get to the point you can't take it any more, stop. There is no test. There will be no quiz. No one will yell at you. You can come back to the paper later if you are still interested.

    Thanks to Eric Drexler for this idea.


    Here's something important to remember. When you learn about science and technology in school it always seems as if those involved figured out just the right stuff in a smooth line leading to success. This is completely wrong. In fact, when doing research and technology development one is constantly running into dead ends, one is usually confused, and often do exactly the wrong thing. This is true of everyone. As Einstein is reputed to have said: "If we knew what we were doing it wouldn't be research."

    Therefore, do not get too discouraged when things aren't going well -- they don't go well most of the time. Enjoy the exploration. Find the humor in your mistakes, there will be lots of them. And, most important, don't give up!