17 thoughts on “O’Neill Cylinders”

  1. Better an ambitious timeline than no timeline at all.

    We know it’s not going to happen, but at least someone is thinking about it. It’s important to dream.

  2. “However, there’s a school of spacefaring thought that suggests colonizing the surface of another planet — any planet — is more trouble than it’s worth.”

    Mars is not much trouble. And even Earth is not much trouble if we enough space traffic, which justified infrastructure which could be stuff in Mag Lev or beamed power to which add delta-v to chemical rockets and reduce gravity loss.
    Mars has fairly low gravity loss, and with Apollo LEM the gravity lose was 100 m/s. And Moon certainly doesn’t need chemical rockets to leave and land on it’s surface.
    And Space is big. In space you have to travel fast to go anywhere.
    A problem with L-5 colony is one will have impose some extremely low speed limit like say 500 m/s [1,116 mph] with say 200 km of it’s boundary [and considering politics it might be lowered to 100 m/s. On Mars surface “cars”, might speed limit of 500 m/s. But probably sub-orbital travel would be way to get around- so speed is how far you going, and since Mars has lower gravity, rather than 1 hr or less anywhere {as on Earth} it could be closer to around 2 hrs or less on Mars. And Moon similar from pole to pole.
    In future one going to use Venus orbit to get to Mars, it has more windows, and it’s a shorter distance to Mars {or Ceres} as compared to from Earth.
    The time to get to Mars from Earth is problem in regards to Mars- unless using a lot delta-v, it takes about 3 months in express travel to Mars. And from Venus to Mars in 3 months takes less delta-v as from Earth- plus on has more launch windows.
    With Ceres, one one will have to use Venus, to start such human settlement on Ceres, and still going much longer than than getting Mars.
    So, if have say less than 1 million people living on Mars, Mars will use Venus, and with such infrastructure in place, one could have settlement on Ceres, and it seems one will tend to use nuclear rocket, even when have a lot nuclear rocket available, one is still going to a lot chemical rockets. And you will have hybrid rockets.

  3. I don’t favor Ceres because it’s pretty far out, getting 6 to 9 times less light than a colony at L4 or L5. Sure, there are plenty of materials there, but whether you simply mine it or build the colonies there, and move the products closer to the Sun and Earth.

    If I was going to put O’Neill cylinder around a major asteroid, I’d probably go with Vesta, whose orbit lies entirely within that of Ceres, averaging about 37% more light, unless differences in composition (and thus available materials) or rotation rates outweighs that advantage.

    Of course one big unknown is the ideal, or most cost-effective, gravity level for mining an asteroid. Maybe gravity allows the use of heavier equipment and more violent methods, or maybe it causes us to use heavy equipment to do things that some little R2D2 could do on a lighter asteroid.

    1. It seems once you got a tunnel, one use tunnel to replace many aspects of why you want gravity. And depth of tunnel is less of problem with having less gravity.
      Or in beginning stages of mining Moon or Mars, it seems one stay at and near surface or it sort like hunter/gather type thing and not something involving million of tons per year. Or with Moon one would be starting with about 10 thousand tons per year and perhaps within a decade be doing hundreds of thousands tons per year- and it could still be a surface operation.
      And with Mars have surface mining, but in terms of water, millions of tons per year- one needs lot water for towns and need cheap water. I think you need lots and cheap water to start a Mars town- or town with near available cheap water, makes the town, when have the towns you could start getting involved tunneling and large scale mining operations.
      And with Ceres, it seems one starting with massive mining operations. Or immediately, it seems to be leaping into massive tunneling mining operations. Though it seems once one has access to the interior, it would seem one would then uses such tunnels for settlements purposes. Or tunnel is a road, and settlements follow from roads.

    2. “I don’t favor Ceres because it’s pretty far out, getting 6 to 9 times less light than a colony at L4 or L5”.

      magnifying the available light with very thin and light mirrors should be easy, and the cost of such mirrors would negligible compared to the colony. I see no problem with the practicality of O’Neill colonies all the way out to Pluto on that count.

      1. I understand that Ceres is also at a high orbital inclination that makes getting there more challenging?

  4. “The timeline seems a mite ambitious.”

    15 years a mite ambitious? Naysayer. Why, with SLS, we could be doing it as of first flight!

    Then we’re talking about 1,500 years…

  5. O’Neill did us all a big disservice when he started this meme. I fully expect large spinning habitats to appear down the road, but sized for a few thousand inhabitants, not tens of thousands or millions. They will be living space for deep space workers and their families, sited near resource nodes and able to move from one node to another as needed. Millions of people aren’t going to be moving to “space colonies” just to live there. If I wanted to live in a shopping mall with an indoor park, I’d move to one near the beach. It’s the same nonsense as the “sea cities” we keep hearing about.

    I published an article in “Ad Astra” (July 1989 issue, I think, cover by Pamela Sargent) that dealt with some of this, called “Harvesting the Near-Earthers.” In part, it talked about the delta-vee necessary to reach various destinations in the solar system (there were some nice tables).

    It is important to realize the idea that space-based material resources can’t be imported to Earth economically is false. Look up the pipeline effect for why.

    1. One of my complaints is that O’Neill colonies are horrible uses of extremely expensive enclosed spaces. It’s like meeting your exercise needs by buying an indoor track and field arena instead of putting a treadmill in your rec room.

      Plus, just buying all the required window glass, direct from a Chinese glass factory run with slave labor, would have exceeded O’Neill’s entire budget for the whole operation.

      1. It seems O’Neill colonies have to be better cities and are problematic for such purposes as farming- or skiing.
        It seems if people can or want to live in low gravity environments, a O’Neill colony could a cheaper living environment.
        Currently we don’t know the effects of living in 1/10 or 1/2 gee environment would be.
        But a lot of older people die from “falls” and lower gravity environment may allow older people to remain “active” for a longer life.
        What I am more interested in is the nearer term uses of space environment and large part of near term will involve adventure/tourism/ amateur explorational stuff. The Moon seems to have a lot potential uses, but need to lower the costs of getting there and leaving/exporting stuff.
        I think a draw in terms living on Mars will be related to political and religious matters. Mars is mostly about being able to buy real estate, and all real estate is related to “land improvement”- which roughly related to access to power, water, and sewage “services”. And in terms of Mars, a pressurized in environment- which I think having access to lots of water, makes, easier.
        Or having access/use lots of water on Mars can give cheaper pressurized environment. Or 10 meters of water depth give 1/3 of atm of pressure. Water also allow a way to get rid of waste heat cheaper. And other the lack of a large amount of Mars water, a major problem with Mars is cheaper electrical power.
        So Mars real estate with a lake, seem like best real estate to buy.
        Though in more distant future with Mars, one get large surface domes, and be doing lots of stuff under the surface.
        As guess I think Musk might thinking going under ground as first step, and real estate underground might be as good as real with a lake. So underground and underground lakes seems good.
        Plus if going deep enough underground, one is also getting pressure.

        1. I like Hobbit and Lord of Rings.
          Think of the Dwarves, with LED lighting. And one can pipe in sunlight.
          That also works for Moon, but Mars has a lot more water than Moon. And I imagine Mars could have a lot more water than we think it has, now.
          Moon [in terms underground] could have a lot more lunar water than we think now. But in terms of towns on the Moon, I think one with have import lots of cheap water {and get the electrical from the drop} from rest of the solar system. So maybe +100 years, one could towns/cities on Luna.
          Or simply after mining Moon after 100 years, lunar water is simply cheaper. Or after say 50 years, lunar water should a lot less than $50 per kg.
          And Mars water needs to be about $1 per kg, to start towns on Mars. So by 2080 AD, Mars water might be close to Earth water prices, and to live on the Moon, one simply going to pay much higher price for your water- but electrical power could a lot cheaper as compared to Mars {and even possibly cheaper than Earth}.

    2. My little living quarters, like an RV might also be largely self-contained, needing only feed water and drain sewer and electrical power. Otherwise fully detachable and movable to any other colony or way station as needed. When the job is done at Site X, some fraction of the colony detaches to move to new supporting infrastructure to form a new colony in orbit over Site Y.

        1. There’s where economies of scale would play a factor. As a small spaceship, there are lots of things that are too much trouble to recycle. The quantities are too small and the required techniques too elaborate. But if you join as part of a “city” or space colony, all those items can be funneled into a stream of materials that would be worthwhile to process, much the way the early meat packing industry’s waste streams got turned into profitable byproducts.

          1. Exactly. The ‘units’ or ‘living quarters’ are standardized and take standard universal connections that easily plug into a larger infrastructure, i.e. they scale, easily. Having everything moved around the solar system to accommodate the ‘colony’ does not make sense. Even O’Neil claimed as much, since the ‘colony’ economically only existed to build the solar power satellites in GEO. The grandiose cylinders and spheres are just artist fantasy to incite some kind of grandiose imagination that will be far from the reality. Kinda like someone drawing utopian illustrations in a British ‘Gazette’ to entice folks to migrate to New England in the 1600s & 1700s. You want scenery and spacious living accommodations go to Moon/Mars or stay on Earth. You like living out of an R/V to live and work in exotic locations, SpaceMiningInc. is looking for you.

      1. Why does your description of space-borne living quarters remind me of the National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation movie?


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