I’ve recently finished a paper on space settlement called “Paths to Space Settlement.”  Here’s the abstract:

A number of firms are developing commercial sub-orbital launch vehicles to carry tourists into space. Let’s assume they attract many customers and become profitable. The next, much more difficult, step is to develop orbital tourist vehicles and space hotels to go with them. These hotels will require maids, cooks, waiters, concierges and so forth, some of which may decide to stay, becoming the first permanent residents in space. At some point a bright entrepreneur may notice the large numbers of wealthy elderly people in wheel chairs willing to pay well to get out of them. Add good medical facilities to an orbital hotel and those people could be living in the first zero-g retirement home.

In the meantime, we could choose to solve, once and for all, our energy and global warming problems by developing space solar power, i.e., putting up enormous satellites to gather energy in space and beam it to Earth with no atmospheric emissions at all. To supply a substantial fraction of civilization’s 15 tw energy habit would require huge numbers of launches, not to mention developing the ability to build extremely large structures in orbit, and eventually tapping the moon and asteroids for materials to avoid the environmental cost of mining, manufacturing, and launch from Earth.

The best asteroids to mine would be known if Earth’s people realize we are in a cosmic shooting gallery and build telescopes to find the thousands of deadly asteroids crossing Earth’s orbit. Most of these won’t hit us for millions of years, but there could be one heading our way at any time. Exploiting these Near Earth Ob jects (NEOs) could be made even easier if we take the eminently sensible step of changing the path of a few completely non dangerous NEOs, just for practice in case one is found to be heading our way without much time to develop deflection techniques.

If we do all this, each step of which is justified in it’s own right, we’ll have excellent launch, small orbital living facilities, the ability to build large objects in orbit, and access to extra-terrestrial materials – most of what we need to realize Gerard O’Neill’s space settlement vision. At that point, expect some extremely wealthy religious fanatics to build themselves a small orbital habitat so they don’t have to live with any ’unbelievers.’ Since the first space settlement is by far the hardest to build, from there on it’s just a matter of time until we have an orbital civilization with trillions of inhabitants.

These are paths to space settlement.

By  Al Globus


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Dave Dressler

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