New Space Age Materials for a New Space Age

Ideas for Space Industrialization in the spirit of G. Harry Stine’s The Third Industrial Revolution

By Joseph Friedlander

Space Products And Potential Earthly Markets.

The original Space Age (say 1958-68 and to a lesser degree all the way to 1975) was not merely the successor to the Atomic Age (immediate post WW2 say 1945-57) but the birthplace of a whole range of new materials. How often have you heard the phrase, “space age material”?

Often it was just a sales tool and had nothing to do with space engineering. Modern plastics and Teflon were actually outgrowths of pre-Second World War era technology. Tang, Pillsbury Space Food Sticks and other such products were marketing fads. Eventually the First Space Age died– some would date it from December 1972 with the last beyond Earth orbit manned mission, some from the Apollo Soyuz mission in 1975, from the loss of even a theoretical Saturn V launch capability in December 1976, or from turning off the lunar surface ALSEP scientific packages (seismometer network) on September 30, 1977, to save a line item and a few hundred thousand dollars a year—forget the billions spent to put them there. Yes, the First (manned) Space Age lived by political funding and died from the lack of political funding, and it died with a whimper.

But for a new space age –sustained by real production with economic motives to keep out there and keep producing spreading Mankind through the Cosmos— new materials are called for and in fact their production might make a great expansion of the Earthly and space economies possible because their production would be from previously undervalued or even waste materials.

Let us think about the potential course of future Solar System development, and then come back to Earth at the end to see what we might do today.

Consider this scenario– asteroid colonization.

Caption from Wikipedia the Main Asteroid Belt (the white donut-shaped cloud), theHildas (the orange “triangle” just inside the orbit of Jupiter) and the Jovian Trojans (green). The group that leads Jupiter are called the “Greeks” and the trailing group are called the “Trojans” (Murray and Dermott, Solar System Dynamics, pg. 107).

Table from Wikipedia Approximate number of asteroids N larger than diameter D

Diameter     Number of Asteroids Larger
100 meters   about 25 million 
300 meters   4 million
500 meters   2 million
1 kilometer  750,000
3 kilometers 200,000
5 km          90,000
10 km       10,000
30 km          1,100
50 km            600
100 km           200
200 km           30
300 km            5
500 km            3
900 km             1

A huge ship brings an industrial seed– perhaps a very sizable one from a large High Orbit shipyard- even millions of tons in mass. This might be a package up to a few hundred meters in diameter, including masses of kilometer-scale thin foil mirrors in aiming frames, furnaces, mining scoops, tethers and braces, etc.

The asteroid is surrounded with a tether system enabling scooping regolith (dust, rocks, etc) from any point on its surface, associated with a free space power transmitting station for reliable energy supply from the Sun, (this could be in orbit within some percentage of the Hill Sphere of the asteroid– the bubble around it where its puny gravitational influence manages to outfight the huge but distant Sun’s. (for example Wikipedia reports a typical asteroidal Hill sphere size range–”a Hill sphere that can reach 220 000 km (for 1 Ceres), diminishing rapidly with its mass. In the case of (66391) 1999 KW₄, a Mercury-crosser asteroid which has a moon (S/2001 (66391) 1), its Hill sphere measures 22 km in radius.”

And from this article we can deduce that around 50% of the Hill sphere radius would make for stable orbits.

Moons could potentially orbit Pluto up to 53% (or 69%, if retrograde) of the Hill sphere radius, the stable gravitational zone of Pluto’s influence.

There should therefore be sufficient working room around the asteroid to deploy power reflectors and other expansive (not necessarily massive) hardware. A kilometer-scale thin film mirror can weigh under a hundred– in fact, under twenty– tons yet over a year supply nearly 10 terawatt hours of energy at the Earth-Moon distance from the Sun (there are near-earth asteroids at this average distance) . In the Asteroid Belt this output may be down to about a tenth because of the lesser sunlight– but these mirrors will be made quickly, in enormous quantity, very cheaply, and their power will be correspondingly cheap. This is enough power to process over a million tons a year of asteroidal material in a very extravagant way. And there is enough space around the asteroid to deploy enough mirrors that the entire asteroid (up to a critical limit, the limit imposed by heat disposal starting in the hundreds km diameter size range)–within about a year if really necessary.

With the surface scraping system of mining scoops, loads of regolith– perhaps in bags, or in containers– are brought up, processed and useful elements extracted.

What are those elements (in a rocky, not a metallic asteroid)? In order of commonness, typically silicon is around 20 percent, magnesium 15 percent, oxygen around 30 percent, iron around 20 percent. calcium and aluminum are only a couple percent each. Nickel is a percent of many asteroids, sulfur a couple percent (up to 6 percent in enstatites), hydrogen up to something over 1 percent (it can be much lower), carbon up to several percent but often just 1 percent or lower. A quarter percent say of chromium, vanadium, manganese. One thousandth or so each cobalt, titanium phosphorus, potassium.

Those last two elements would be in great demand biologically. One reason (given abundant cheap energy!) I don’t think Peak Phosphorus or Peak Potassium would be a real problem would be their similar abundance even on Earth. However, lacking cheap energy on Earth, space sourced trace elements would be a viable export. (Like the aluminum exports of today, they would represent virtual imports of energy to a country, as wheat is considered to be a ‘virtual water’ import– in simple terms, importing the processed material frees you from supplying all the hard to obtain materials used in doing the processing (energy or abundant fresh water in a energy or water poor country) ) In this way the carrying capacity of Earth could be massively increased, although really emigration makes much more long term sense.
Other possible asteroid exports–Up to one percent of an asteroid mass may be exportable as a high grade (near carbon free) stainless steel (using chromium and some nickel, perhaps some vanadium, perhaps some manganese.). Nickel itself will be in huge demand for the future, not merely for plating but for many chemical uses involving CVD (chemical vapor deposition) and in fact this could be one of the key manufacturing processes of the future– low energy, precision shapes, and the potential for great automation.(Why? Because processes where you pump in things, control temperatures and get solid products out greatly reduce the ‘handshake problem’ of handing off solid pieces that vary one from another.)

Carbon and hydrogen deposits in space are always welcome, for all the many organic compounds we use today on Earth– lubricating oil, engineering plastics– food! (Nitrogen is scarce in the inner solar system other than Earth Venus and Mars and may be shipped in the form of ammonia from the Outer System) Astronaut candidate Brian O’Leary wrote a book called the Fertile Stars around 1981 about food exports to Earth from space colonies—I find it difficult to believe in terms of importing wheat, but consider importing something like salmon or beef with a massive feed-to meat ratio.

We can imagine importing a single ton of beef rather than the 6.5 tons of feed needed to grow it in the feedlot—or the 10 or 20 tons of food needed in the wild to feed a ton of salmon. If you consider the actual good cuts of course the ratio is even higher. (The bad cuts, bones etc would be recycled at the space plantation—we would import vacuum packed good cuts, probably dehydrated and frozen. All those processes would be very cheap in space.) If it were possible to get rid of factory farming on Earth and import meat protein from off-world equally cheaply the strain on our fresh water resources (for the feed grains–1,300 tons of rain are required to grow 1 ton of wheat and around 15,500 tons of water to grow one ton of beef down river ecology (sewage of feedlots) food supplies and general pollution (smells downwind) would be enormously reduced. And acreage freed up for native species or more vegetable farming would enable more variety both in our landscapes and on our tables.

We can imagine a world where grain (perhaps even in the form of totally insect part free vacuum sealed flour) is eventually imported, but probably fresh vegetable farming would be the last to go.

However as we have stated elsewhere, it really makes enormously more sense in terms of mass flows to export people rather than import food. (Otherwise phosphorus runoff from our drainage systems would eventually cause drainage blooms, etc.–though if sequestered it might be endurable for far longer than people might think) Exporting sewage to space—to close the cycle after importing food to Earth– as Heinlein mentioned as a possibility in his discussion of lunar colonization in THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS (1966), although possible, only begs the question of why the people are not going instead and saving many times their weight in imports/exports yearly. (eventually the vast majority of people must live in space simply on an argument of available ecological niche space). But as an interim business one can certainly imagine all these things happening, if there is money to be made.

The key assumption in all these projections is that energy production in space would be enormously cheap– and given a space industrialization process as I have postulated so far that extremely low cost for power seems quite likely indeed– near the Sun. If we imagine a square meter of foil-surfaced mirror (literal metal foil, perhaps magnesium (because there is a lot of it) surfaced by aluminum or sodium—scarcer and more reflective metals ) being available in a solar sail like mounting frame and aimable to a spot for perhaps $1 a square meter. On Earth $1000 a watt for 24-hour solar thermal power would be an excellent buy and here it is $1 a kilowatt! The actual cost for thermal power using the simple economic model suggested by Keith Henson– $800 a kilowatt capacity amortized over 80000 hours (10 years) equals a penny a kilowatt hour.

Keith Henson has written ”To displace oil requires an even lower cost, around one
cent per kWh. A penny a kWh translates into dollar-a-gallon synthetic fuels made from hydrogen and carbon dioxide from the air. (

The first step for an economic analysis is a projected income. There are 8766 hours in an average year, 8000 hours if the energy is available 91% of the time. A power satellite would generate $80 of revenue per kW per year at one cent per kWh. For a ten-year payback at $80 per year, the permissible investment would be $800 per kW. At two cents per kWh or a 20-year payback, the maximum investment could rise to $1600 per kW or $1.6 B per GW. (A ten-year payback is simplistic, but good enough for rough analysis.)

Reaching this figure requires a launch cost to GEO of less than $100/kg. This is about a 200-fold reduction in current costs.”

Well here, the cost appears to amortize over 12 years to around a penny a thermal megawatt hour! (1000 kilowatt hours)— 1/1000th the cost of Earthly solar power even though on paper it is only about 10 times more abundant. The 10x theoretical diffierential is because there is no shadow in free space, no rain, no wind to damage mirrors nor wind-borne clouds to shade them in daylight hours….Nor is this as cheap as it could be made, nor does it take into account many expenses that could be added to take it more expensive– but it does give an idea that space solar that uses simple mirrors does not have to build a costly (if buildable at all) fusion reactor– because there’s a free big one hanging right over there..

Just for cost comparison, around 123 tons of coal (this makes assumptions on the BTU rating) burned an hour with perfect efficiency will generate a constant gigawatt of heat– in 2005 around $60 a ton, (double that price of just a few years previous) that cost for a yearly gigawatt being $64.6 million a year (and 1.077 million tons of coal being consumed) The simple total of this over 12 years would be $775.2 million with no compensation for time value of money– vs. the $1 million of our hypothetical solar mirror. (to be fair, a realistic mirror might only deliver 85% of the incident energy on target because of reflection and other losses. But I think we have made our point of almost a thousand to one times cheaper cost of energy (quibblers will note we have not costed in the equipment to use this energy stream– but quibblers will not note the fact that we have neglected the cost of the coal furnaces, emission controls, etc. either.) Simply put, we have reason (derived from decades of studying the problem) to believe that many industrial operations (by no means all) may be tens to hundreds to a thousand times cheaper in space. Best practices are hard to develop and continually improve and worst practices are everywhere and governments literally have lost money running gold mines (USSR) gambling (NY state) and other usually lucrative businesses. It all depends on how you do it and how you approach the problem.

One gigawatt hour by coal with the above figures ($60 ton. 123 tons hour) costs $7380 –around .738 cents per kilowatt hour for the coal alone (assuming no expense in burning it) You who buy coal generated electricity typically pay 5 cents for an industrial user account and 10 cents for a residential account.

Research by David Criswell ( indicates that a beamed power facility on the Moon could in fact be profitable beaming power to Earth with busbar rates lower than a cent and possibly as low as a tenth of a cent per kilowatt-hour—if so, electricity cheaper than natural gas and coal. (Good news for people who want to reduce carbon emissions.) This is basically my own position on carbon emissions– displacing carbon emissions not by taxes decrees or interference with peoples private lives (pain) but rather by a means they would find good –lower energy prices (pleasure). Current ‘greentech’ is heavily dependent on crony deals with politicians and seeks to subsidy-seek by mandate, law and regulation. Truly cheaper greentech would win the market on its own– assuming the usual connected players (oil companies, coal mine owners) did not use their own political cronyist connections to use government power against it. Really, make clean solar energy cheaper, get the rent-seekers out of the way, and people will make the obvious choices.

Keith Lofstrom’s own estimates of cheap as you can get space access (Launch Loop) and beamed down space power are “50 cents per kilogram, and a 50 cents per megawatt-hour”, (1/20th cent kilowatt hour) “

Keith Henson has written ”To displace oil requires an even lower cost, around one
cent per kWh. A penny a kWh translates into dollar-a-gallon synthetic fuels made from hydrogen and carbon dioxide from the air. (
Note that such hypothesized synthetic oil would be an energy carrier, not an energy source (requiring space sourced electricity to generate) so it would be carbon neutral.

To put a number on how low energy prices can go– when natural gas is $3 a thousand cubic feet, it is the equivalent of thermal heat at the rate of 1 cent a kilowatt-hour in current dollars The extremely subsidized rate in the Ukraine until recently was $1.50 a thousand cubic feet, equivalent to half a cent a kilowatt hour Cheaper still is the rate of ‘stranded’ natural gas which is often flared off; the owner of the deposit, beyond reach of a pipeline, will often be glad to sell it for the $1.50 rate or in some cases, as little as one sixth a cent per kilowatt hour—50 cents a thousand cubic feet! (Yet the real output cost of electric power from an lunar solar powers system as described in Criswell’s plan should be considerably less than even this—and the thermal system I have outlined here should be around 100 times less than that per unit of heat!
1000 cubic feet= 1027000 BTU /3413 BTU/kilowatt-hour = 300.908 kilowatt-hours.

$5 a thermal megawatt hour. Even coal costs $7.37 per thermal megawatt hour when coal is at $60 (assuming perfect combustion).

~$1.60 a thermal megawatt hour! At normal industrial rates, 5cents/ kilowatt/ hr, electric heating would cost $50.

Note by the way the fact that if the peak oil people are right about NEGATIVE EROEI (Energy Returned On Energy Invested) having the potential to collapse civilization, (some people calculate the collapse point at say 3-1 or even 5-1;-on the Russian railroads during the 1917-21 revolution it was 4:1 using locally chopped wood in other words, 25% of the energy went to run the railroads to transport the wood (they burned wood as fuel also) to keep the energy systems running.) Even during the peak of easy oil, the return was only 100:1) then by the same logic you must admit that 1000x more POSITIVE EROEI (1000x greater productivity or return for the same energy effort) will result in an era of hyperwealth.

What this also means is that even if we go out to Pluto’s distance from the Sun, (1000 x less energy, 30x farther out) we can have power costs reasonable enough to sustain civilization even there.–Even further, because we arbitrarily assumed $1 a square meter was the cheapest we could make the mirrors. In reality, they should be doable for far less in huge quantity (Probably about a hundredth of that—concievably a thousandth. $1000 a square kilometer? It is as inconceivable now as the idea of 10 billion transistors for $10 was 50 years ago. So never say never!

An example of increased capability made possible by cheaper energy prices–
The heat of fusion of a typical rock (ie basalt) has been listed as 420 million joules per ton

(+/-30%). Therefore a ton of coal can in theory melt over 69 times its weight in basalt. Practical experience in real basalt melting furnaces in Czechoslovakia of moderate size. seems to imply at least an efficiency of 23 times its weight in basalt. Obviously the technique works best in large masses that limit thermal losses.

Taking the heat of fusion as 420000 J/kg(+/-30%), per kilowatt hour ( 3.6 megajoules) for purposes of demonstration, we would be able to melt 8.57 kilograms. 29300 megajoules per ton of coal/3.6 megajoules yields 8138 (kilowatt hours) enabling a melt of 69.7 tons of rock per ton of coal. So on thermal costs alone it would cost about $1 a ton at current coal prices to make artificial lava.

Consider then space solar thermal power 1000 times cheaper than this– $1 to melt a kiloton of lava. Let us imagine melting a trillion ton asteroid for $1 billion. Ten times more heat and we boil it for about $10 billion worth of solar heat. (It might be technically possible to boil an entire asteroid at once but it would beg a massive enclosure. I suspect people will start small and work their way up) You can see that for quite moderate amounts of input resources– with 1000 times the ‘energy productivity’ on Earth—we can obtain 1000 times the generated wealth. Repeated distillation would rapidly yield up the majority of the abundant elements sought—and at that point we will have reached (in this one small case) Peak Asteroid– the main industrial complex (most of the mass drivers for example) will leave or be wound down.

(But not all. To get on a reentry collision course with the Earth-Moon system is enormously easier than matching orbits. It is worth noting in this connection that the ‘characteristic velocity’ ie the speed that a swinging tether can reach within a defined mass limitation for that given speed, is 1.81 km sec characteristic velocity for quartz fiber and 2.77 km sec characteristic velocity carbon fiber (carbon fiber is stronger) Some mass may be used up targeting other celestial bodies. For example, suppose you want to put tubeways for an underground radiation proof colony/road network on the Moon. You could excavate the surface at great effort– or target waste mass with rotary tethers to simultaneously explode in a straight line. (Operation Plowshare experiments showed simultaneous cratering bursts would form a linear merged crater)

In return for this waste mass, some targeting expertise and energy, we have simultaneous detonations making a trench through impact. One can imagine quilted lunar valleys, for easy straight paths between points—the ultimate in ‘cut and cover’ tunneling.

To what extent, though, can we further mine an already depleted asteroid?

Massive amounts of wealth will remain, and massive amounts of lightweight solar mirror will already have been paid for. Imagine distilling an asteroid not once but 1000 times. (actually probably 100 times would do it—even 10 or 20 cycles. But we pick a conservative number.) The object being to get out 99% of all minor elements. Say, 29 parts per million copper, or 1 part per million neodymium, or thorium, or tungsten or samarium.

A trillion ton asteroid would have 29 million tons of copper, and 1 million tons of each of those other elements. It would not be economical on Earth with its more expensive energy to set out to extract 99% of all minor elements– but the solar arrays are stuck around the asteroid, and already paid for. Why not use them?

Looking at it from the point of view of Earth’s expanding solar empire, we can see rare element packages being aimed to impact and retro with the atmospheres of Earth and Mars and Titan, (or splatter on the Moon and be recovered from the impact sites) to be recovered there and built into products requiring them—say neodymium boron linear motor magnets, or samarium cobalt magnetic motors, or any other combination of products.

The future will find uses for all the materials we can refine– if done within the limits of affordability and to meet real needs. (Defined as what people will pay for of their own free will because they consider it a good bargain. Not because of a government mandate, or to compete because of a market distorting law or directive. What they would choose to spend on their own.)

Consider that a 180 ton mass 150 rpm 6.6 kilovolt copper motor is around 21 megawatts electric, and you will see that a hypothetical future all electric world using 21 terawatts of motive power would require 180 million tons of these (much of that is the laminated iron core, but easily such a quantity of motors could use 29 milllion tons– and more– of copper) Just to give an idea of the power of such a complex of motors, if channeled in one place and to one purpose they could, with 100% efficiency, hurl over a year 10804.5 million tons to escape velocity!

(Assuming 18 kilowatt-hours is enough to hurl 1 kg to escape velocity, (really an approximation, 62 megajoules which is a bit over the specific orbital energy of the orbit of the Moon = 17.2222222 kilowatt hours)
A motor capable of exerting 18 kilowatt-hours in one second would be 64800 kilowatts or 64.8 megawatts. Dividing 21 million megawatts into 64.8 we find that each second (don’t bother me about g-loads) we could hurl 324 tons to escape velocity– so over a year 31.5 million seconds, we obtain the export of 10.2 billion tons to escape velocity!

Suppose a low G-linear electric accelerator could be developed– perhaps the Josh Hall Space Pier plan , perhaps Keith Lofstrom’s Launch Loop perhaps a variant of Professor Warren D. Smith’s magnetic catapult concept, perhaps another– and we see that exporting the entire human population in a year would be technically possible, as well as our herds and any industrial equipment we needed to take with us (truly sensitive equipment would have to be rebuilt once in space– as the Server Sky plan has pointed out, fine equipment cannot take high G loads) But certainly what people built at first with tools and hands they can rebuild.

To make a thing possible, it helps to make it cheap. Otherwise it does not get done too often, as the history of manned lunar exploration has proven so far. At $14 billion a man on the Moon, (the actual cost of the say $25 billion civilian space program from 1959 to 1972) in ca. 1970 dollars divided by the 12 men to walk there so far was 2 billion dollars, (in 2010 dollars, $14 billion a man) the prospect of lunar development is hopeless.

At $14,000 to put a man on the Moon, it would happen tomorrow. (A hypothetical Star Trek like Transporter Probe that soft lands then Transports spacesuited men to a work site then back home once their shift is done– including further Transporter Probes and heavy industrial (electrical) equipment such as space backhoes, etc—fairly soon we would have the equivalent of industrial cities on the Moon and lunar colonization –as opposed to a daily commute—would follow, if only to save on Transporter costs…)

Eventually industrial production will be centered in space. The key is cost reduction (increasing productivity).

It also helps to find ways to make waste materials marketable even from ‘common’ rock. A famous story is the origin of Kingsford Charcoal. In Henry Ford’s factory even waste scraps had uses.

The Kingsford Company was formed by Henry Ford and E.G. Kingsford during the early 1920s. Charcoal was developed from Ford Motor Company’s factory wastes (wood scraps).

Now suppose that Peak Minor Elements has come and gone at this hulk of an asteroid, (notice that each world– or worldlet– has its own Peak X Point for each mineable commodity X—Peak Uranium on Mars, for example, is long in the future—) all that remains are the most common elements of all— oxygen, silicon, iron, magnesium, sulfur, aluminum, calcium, titanium –the last 3 being so abundant on the Moon that one assumes the Lunar production will be cheaper. (Remaining mass at this stage is say around 95% of the original mass of the asteroid (90% if there was plenty of exportable carbon and hydrogen) Obviously the easy money people have moved on to other asteroids. What to do now?

Well we still have some overwhelming advantages–

Space materials have one very uncommon attribute from the point of view of Earth– their location. Uphill gravitationally, in the bright sunshine and free power.
Plenty of nothing– vacuum in unlimited quantities (lunar processing might be tricky in terms of very high vacuum (less than a billionth of an atmosphere) long term because the natural trillionth of an atmosphere can easily be ‘polluted’ by very large scale industrial activity, generating (without precautions) a long-term atmosphere around the Moon– but around an asteroid, there is no question any gas generated will disperse quickly)

Supercheap energy – as outlined above.

Access to near-zero gravity AND an accessible barycenter (the very center of a gravity well)

These make it possible to process millions of tons of materials using container-less processing, resulting in 100-1000 times present productivity per weight of production facility. If you build a frame cage (with thermal insulators) around the barycenter, let energy in and let mass in, you will soon get a molten glob. (Actually globe– round from surface tension). Since it does not directly touch anything for support it cannot dissolve or erode its container as furnaces on Earth do. One of the huge expense of running a steel mill on Earth for example, is repairing and maintaining the corroded furnace linings and the dissolved electrodes. Since you are not spending on liners or supports (gravity keeps it in place) your productivity of tonnage per unit of furnace is enormously greater– one installation can (and will) process more molten material then the entire US –or even Chinese– steel industry, at far lower cost per ton produced.

These advantages would remain even after the ‘easy riches’ of the asteroid were gone. Mass processing of the remaining substance of the asteroid– over time– would enable producing useful substances out of very common materials– the most common solid elements in the Universe.

An industrial revolution may be defined (by me) as a method of improved operations whereby better products at lower costs would be suddenly possible.

So massively depleted of rare elements -left with only the most common of elements– can we still turn the substance of the asteroid into wealth?

The iron, for example, with the oxygen might make the basis of a colonization hull to take emigrants. For long term oxygen conservation (leaks) you would want a radiation shielding superhull outside with cold traps to catch and freeze the leaks to oxygen ice. Inside this might be thousands of smaller colony hulls to take settlements. So in a sense one solution is to create real estate for sale.

But that is an in-situ product– we are thinking more of export products now—defined as stuff that leaves the orbit of the source asteroid once produced..

I suggest that a new age of space-sourced materials may result from a combination of necessity (moving the commonest elements to market) and creativity.
Consider for a moment form. Sphere, Fiber, Foam, Film. SF3 I call them. (If teaching a child a sing-song learning-poem (teachers, take note, this often helps) I would say, “Fiber pulls out. Fiber cuts foam. Film backs foam. Blow a bubble and freeze it and you get a sphere. Blow a gassy bubble and you get foam. Pop a bubble with a hoop of fiber and you get film.”) Suppose we had new processes capable of forming these with unprecedented cheapness. Sphere, Fiber Foam Film. What might be uses of these?

Spheres– blowing bubbles. There was an excellent report Self-Deployed Space or Planetary Habitats and Extremely Large Structures Devon Crowe’s space bubble concept which was covered at Nextbigfuture

During Phase 1, PSI has demonstrated low mass bubble structures that can be fabricated by low-pressure inflation (~10e-4 atmospheres) in a vacuum and then made rigid using solar UV curing. The surface density is on the order of one gram per square meter, enabling bubbles to enclose volume at system densities under 15 µg/cc. Space structures with volumes 10e8 times that of the spacecraft payload used to transport the materials become possible with this technology.

Bubbles and foam with individual cell sizes up to 100 meters
Structural spans can exceed 10,000 kilometers in micro-g environments
Deployment of Rigid Bubbles has been demonstrated in the laboratory
o Spheres
o Flats
o Curved surfaces
o Theoretically Scalable to 100 km single bubble in low earth orbit
o Theoretically Scalable to 1,000 km single bubble in deep space
o Foam structural element span can far exceed single bubble in extent

…the size of a 1000 kilometer bubble is nearly the size of Charon, the moon of Pluto. Charon is 1200 kilometers in diameter. Saturn’s moon Tethys is 1050-1080 kilometers in diameter Ceres the largest object in the asteroid belt is 970 kilometers in diameter. A single tesselation foam…of 1000 kilometer bubbles would be about the size of Earth’s moon. A Penrose tesselation…of 1000 kilometer bubbles would be in between the size of Neptune or Saturn. A Tesselation foam of 100 kilometer bubbles in earth orbit could form an object the size of our existing moon or larger.

In the Crowe study, cool plastic was used. But there is nothing stopping us from using oxygen to inflate silicon dioxide melt. The bubbles can be very thick walled to the point of literally being solid balls. Imagine melting pure quartz and inflating the incandescent mass with gas injection. But with silicon dioxide being (for a trillion ton asteroid) available literally in the hundreds of billions of tons, there is no shortage of materials.

Injecting a lot of gas (under very low pressure, small amounts of gas can cause huge inflation) into a bubble one is blowing creates a foam sphere.
In the study the inflation gas was at one ten-thousandth (~10e-4 ) of an atmosphere. On large scales in good vacuum much less should be practical but if not each cubic kilometer, instead of needing 1.29 million tons of gas to inflate (at the density of air at sea level per cubic kilometer) but 129 tons of air! If one wanted a Death Star sized bubble (say 160 km or 100 miles) 2144660.585 cubic kilometers volume at 129 tons per cubic kilometer volume—you’d need 276661204.5 tons of asteroidal oxygen or other gas–a quarter billion tons. (maybe 1/1000th of the gas in our trillion ton asteroid) This might not be all lost during depressurization after hardening. (In advanced designs nearly all could be recycled) These loss figures might be much reduced with appropriate pressure differentials.

It might be possible to embed fibers (more below) into this as it is being blown (for reinforcement) then to surface coat the cooling foam bubble with a solid syrup of molten quartz, on its outer perimeter, adhering by surface tension. Or another means might be by direct physical vapor deposition, then by beading molten quartz on that smoother surface for a good weld. The result would be a fiber reinforced foam bubble with a hard surface. These might be centimeter sized to the size of small moons. These foam bubbles might be thin walled or solid foam to the center (cutting through foam is comparatively easy– you would cut in an internal atmosphere working environment then vacuum the chips out—literally hollowing and burrowing like an ant colony in this sphere in space.)

Marshall Savage has suggested using a sphere-in-sphere geometry for a space colony. A ‘kissing cluster’ of 13 spheres, one in the center, three each on top and bottom, 6 around the central one, all touching, 13 spheres in all—enclosed in a larger sphere– and this nested again and again.

Using my own numbers for the sphere dimensions this for example might be a 1.8 kilometer diameter sphere, containing 13 of the 600 meter spheres, each containing 169 of the 200 meter diameter spheres, each containing 2197 of the 66.6 meter diameter spheres, each containing 28561 of the 22.2 meter diameter spheres, each containing 371293 of the 7.74 meter diameter spheres (individual rooms) There is a dazzling picture of this (in slightly different design) at

There the design is gold plated (a few atoms thick, vapor deposited ) and banded for semi-privacy. The idea of floating in that kind of living kaleidoscope of tracing light rays and crystal (half aluminized in places and with different color coatings) is fascinating if only on aesthetic grounds.

Small balls– if made cheaply enough—of varying sizes could literally be used as the coarse and fine aggregate in a new kind of concrete with conventional or epoxy cements. Being super-hard, and with great compressive strength quartz balls would make a very strong concrete possible.

Brian Wang has written of better civil defense and blast resistance with superstrong quartz-aggregate concrete

With cheap silica fibers added (below) the entire mass could become translucent to transparent. Even with just fibers today here are pictures of what could be done– but it is very expensive today. We are talking of filler cheap enough to practically substitute for coarse and fine aggregate– simultaneously being also reinforcement. Such a house might not need any windows at all for light!

Transparent concrete

Glass blowing can produce a lower melting composition reinforced with pure quart-fiber (higher melting) reinformements. In the zero-gravity environment huge incandescent tonnages could be pushed around with relatively little effort (once you get the hang of it, which presumably would have quite a dangerous learning curve) to create shapes – for what purpose? Other than spray targets, not sure– but new art forms often have interesting outcomes. We’ll see.

FOAM Of course pure, high- melting silicon dioxide isn’t the only substance that can be foamed or spherized, even metals can be (with oxygen, however, the metals will combine) However even with iron the amount of oxygen in vacuum simply would not be enough to consume enough of the metal (more than say 1/1000th) to appreciably weaken the structure (there would however be a great diminution of strength from the pure metal alone) We might however use magnesium vapor (at around 1100 degrees C) to inflate iron into a robust metal foam– which might form around glass fibers for a glass-reinforced metal foam. As noted above, this might easily be transparent or translucent if the fibers went end-to end.

A hot or sharp wire could cut through, profile and otherwise shape this metal foam, and the reinforced foam core could then be coated with solid metal on top, making a super-rigid package, wire-reinforced, with dense surface, strong and light constructions at a cheap price.

Decorative substances for color that might be easily obtained– combining nitrogen (possibly imported in the form of ammonia from the Outer System with titanium to make titanium nitride.

For example TiN–not tin the metal, but Titanium Nitride— is golden in spectrum and color, a wonderful infrared protection coating, with a spectrum similar to gold itself very durable and hard (it’s that gold coat on drills in the hardware store) but only tiny coats are possible in Earthly vacuum chambers. If it were possible to cheaply coat acres of the stuff (hectares) it would be a wonderful substance for architectural accents– white and gold pillars, thing like that.

Here is a color sample

It can be vapor deposited on most substances. This, not actual gold, is what I would use for my space colony and space helmet infrared reflector films!

One can imagine no end of Caesar’s Palace like decorative motifs involving gold-plated architectural elements such as might fit into a depiction of classical civilization.

One might imagine fiber-reinforced foam being hotwire cut (some wires such as platinum are can endure temperatures sufficient to cut foamed glass without problems from the bound oxygen) then coated white with vapor deposition of magnesium oxide and gilded ,shipped down as building blocks for a city of spectacular appearance along these lines:

.For example for the 1964 film Fall of The Roman Empire (before computer generated effects) the moviemakers built the largest set in film history. This was a temporary structure unlikely to endure like conventional buildings– but suppose you could build entire cities – ready to sell after you finished filming– for very low prices–

“The film’s reconstruction of the Roman Forum at Las Matas near Madrid, at 400 x 230 meters (1312 x 754 feet) holds the record for the largest outdoor film set. The various ancient Rome settings covered 55 acres (220,000 m2). “

Similarly the movie Ben Hur required “300 sets scattered over 340 acres (1.4 km²).

One can imagine a new and impressive age of epic film making

when the cost of real sets crashes (sets that can be sold as living spaces afterwards—in fact the real estate might the the main thing, and the film merely a promotion device, so people could say, “Film X was shot there.”). Such movie fantasy architectural developments could also be non-historical, for example a Lord of the Rings like city of Minas Tirath. (The spiral-like mountain fortress city featured in that epic–)

Besides coated foam architectural elements, to add to decoration and festive urban atmosphere, glass fibers can be woven into ‘betacloth’. This glass can be colored within coated without and in a riot of color which may be quite fade resistant (UV degrades many conventional fabrics rapidly)

Look at these pictures and imagine glass cloth in all these colors (glossy is the default but roughening can produce more subdued appearance)
textiles Sunday textile market on the sidewalks of Karachi, Pakistan.

bolts fabric
Colors and cloth

An example of past splendorous display and sumptuous array was the Field of Cloth of Gold, a meeting place whose name symbolized the event of a meeting of two kings:
Both Henry and Francis wished to be seen as Renaissance princes. Renaissance thinking held that a strong prince could choose peace from a place of strength. The meeting was designed to show how magnificent each court was and how this could be a basis for mutual respect and peace between nations who were traditional enemies. Henry and Francis were also similar figures of similar age and dashing reputations, so there was almost certainly a mutual curiosity. Each king tried to outshine the other, with dazzling tents and clothes, huge feasts, music,jousting, and games. The tents and the costumes displayed so much cloth of gold, an expensive fabric woven with silk and gold thread, that the site of the meeting was named after it.

The most elaborate arrangements were made for the accommodation of the two monarchs and their large retinues; and on Henry’s part especially no efforts were spared to make a great impression in Europe with this meeting. Before the castle of Guines, a temporary palace covering an area of nearly 12,000 square yards (10,000 m2), was erected for the reception of the English king. The palace was in four blocks with a central courtyard; each side was 328 feet (100 m) long. The only solid part was the brick base about 8 feet (2 m) high. Above the brickwork, the 30-foot (10 meter) high walls were made of cloth or canvas on timber frames, painted to look like stone or brick. The slanting roof was made of oiled cloth painted to give the colour of lead and the illusion of slates. Contemporaries commented especially on the huge expanse of glass, which made visitors feel they were in the open air. …The building was decorated in the most sumptuous fashion and furnished with a profusion of golden ornaments. Red wine flowed from the two fountains outside. …
Some idea of the size of Henry’s following may be gathered from the fact that in one month 2200 sheep and other viands in a similar proportion were consumed, along with roughly 1350 Crumpets and 70 jars of strawberry jam. In the fields beyond the castle, 2800 tents were erected for less distinguished visitors.
These were early examples of membrane structures (like tents but at least looking more permanent) that in the end will cover large portions of continents to enclose and yield-optimize (easy climate for plants) vast agricultural plantations and macro-environments. (Keeping out for instance intruder organisms from a vulnerable species sanctuary).

Today’s civilization produces tens of thousands of square kilometers of cloth a year-(some of that for purely industrial purposes) Indeed by one study 2015 is envisioned to see 32 billion square meters of printed fabrics alone a year– and that itself would have been mind boggling to to previous civilizations –which had textile scarcity—and the majority of whose textile products were crude homespun. (So poor were medieval societies that often the pay of the hangman was to keep the clothing of the executed wretch). Technically speaking it would be no problem at all today to wallpaper with reproductions of great art works if that were our priority– for example one of my favorite pairs of pictures , Picture gallery with views of modern Rome by Giovanni Paolo Pannini, painted 1759.

G.P. Pannini,” Roman ruins and sculpture,” (Louvre) 1758
(Caption from Wikipedia, article about Neoclassicism G. P. Panniniassembles the canon of Roman ruins and Roman sculpture into one vast imaginary gallery

which are metapictures– pictures of galleries full of pictures for hanging in a gallery full of… pictures.

You can imagine covering your walls with printed copies of fantastic art and printed frames around them, all in cloth or wall paper, and looking from a distance indistinguishable from real hand-painted art. Think what a miracle that would have seemed before the invention of photography, digital picture reproduction and roll to roll printing techniques. Look at those two metapictures and imagine the equivalent done of a gallery of different car models or spacecraft, according to your individual taste. In the future, with intelligent AI and hyperwealth, custom design will be no huge problem.

This prospect of asteroidal rock by the cubic kilometer being formed to fiber and spun to cloth for ‘soft furnishings’ of all kinds would be mind boggling: Millions of square kilometres– whole cubic kilometers– of non rottable cloth that doesn’t fade for purposes of display in sunlight—such as soft hangings, banners, textiles and tapestries in a city.

They could be steam cleanable with impunity; color internal to glass does not run. A new age of nearly unbreakable rope bridges, hanging baskets and tension structures with elaborate colored embroderies and other decorations could result from these new materials. Something like ceramic (fiber based) wicker could be produced as well in a rainbow of reflective colors. Because they do not rot (even fiberglass rots in sun and rain, but that is the binding plastic glue or epoxy going, not the ceramic fibers within) and can be steam cleaned they could be maintained fresh looking for many decades to centuries. Giant hanging curtains could for example both hide expressway clutter and soften its’ noise. This link to stage softgoods may serve as an analogy of partitioning space with fabric like materials. One can imagine improving the view of many urban settings by having fake ‘backdrops’ behind the building. Of course once this starts others put theirs up in self-defense– where does it end? Perhaps in a quilt like city of each block its own little enclosed world.

LINKS on Textile art (read them with an eye toward the possibilities of adapting them for massive zero-g production of asteroidal mineral fiber goods) . know the basics

Stringing hollow foam beads with hard exteriors on twisted quart-fiber ropes could enable all sorts of clever designs in large new cityscapes. a high speed process possibly suited to vacuum. Explains complexities of fiber to product– note that many of the steps do not apply to synthetic rock mineral fibers, because it emerges ready to use. Useful vocabulary

1. Crafts involving textiles

2. –Macrame, knot weaving useful for rope like structures in vast arrays.
Designs, art, wall coverings Super cheap carpet can make possible shell houses with no floor, saving on the foundations except for the pole supports– pioneered by Fifty Dollar and Up Underground House Book author Mike Oehler (plastic under the rug keeps from moisture, dirt under the plastic is soft under the carpet. Roof is supported on pillars and pole supports on foundations. Literally a hole in the ground, plant the roof, fill in dirt and carpet (and moisture barrier) and bury the whole mess and you have a building with 10% the material and energy expense. One can imagine marketing modular Oehler-method kits as export items, weighing perhaps a few tons and being markedly superior to conventional Earthly construction materials– superlight and super strong, waterproof and superinsulated. (foamed quartz with glass-fiber reinforcement for watertight roofing on top of reinforced foam pillars, rotproof and not needing treatment as do many materials from Earth) Mike Oehler’s revolutionary Post/Shoring/Polyethylene building method, which cuts building materials to the absolute minimum. (See the video/DVD section for an illustration comparing P/S/P with the materials used in normal frame house construction.)

But The $50 and Up Underground House Book does much more than just cut your building material costs by up to 90%. It is widely recognized as the book which offers the reader the greatest possibilities for light, air and views in an underground home. Where most owner-designers and even professional architects are stuck on the disastrous “First Thought” concept, a design which greatly limits view, sunshine and air flow, and which usually causes staggering drainage problems, Oehler offers the “Basic Design” with the “Up Hill Patio” which solves these problems and more. He explains the weaknesses of the other three design concepts favored by conventional architects: skylights, vertical window wells and atriums. For example, though skylights admit a rewarding amount of light, they are hard to use for ventilation and fire escape, get dirty quicker, often leak, admit too much of the summer sun, too little of the winter rays, and offer no view whatsoever.

Quilting the padding can be many things, including stones or rockwool meters thick for ballistic armor (meteor shielding) or superinsulation

Another housing idea whose kit form would greatly benefit from asteroidal materials processed with abundant energy, zero-gravity and the ability to foam and melt refractory substances– the Hexayurt concept.

Today, the Hexayurt, a concept by by Vinay. Gupta.
The Hexayurt, at

The idea on Earth today is a totally open source design that can be made for a few hundred dollars, literally using 6″ wide tape as both adhesive and leak sealer, with foam board (plywood also?) and metal foil reflector to keep cool in heat.
The basic model is 166 square feet in size and uses 12-18 sheets of foil-coveredpolyisocyanurateinsulation, or hexacombcardboard. Buildings are held together with half-foot-wide foil-surfaced duct tape and anchored to the ground like tents. A plastic tarp provides a floor. This building’s design is in the Buckminster Fuller lineage of using contiguous triangles to maximize the load-bearing ability of simple structures.

This might have application to the present financial crisis, given that it may cost only a few hundred dollars to build one (and therefore rents in the ten dollar a month range might be practical) If the recession gets much worse folks may be getting tossed out of their places, and one business model might be (to avoid building codes—depending on what your local law says) officially a yurt campground with rooms and common bathrooms (boys and girls being separate, etc–like camping out)

However looking ahead to a fabulous and prosperous future, obviously if we could substitute New Space Age materials for the more delicate ones in the present design, we would have a super-insulated, rotproof, termite-proof, waterproof indeed fireproof foamed quartz dwelling. Many other housing configurations are possible; the essential point is ready kits available as export goods from asteroidal industries cheaper than the raw sheet goods on Earth (because of lower energy and processing costs out there).

More ancient arts with possible parallels in space industrial futures:

Ribbon embroidery– decorative but also a means of encoding information in a machine readable form

String art (Mathematical shapes in string tracery)– great for education and public city themes

Crocheting, similar to knitting, consists of pulling loops of yarn through other loops. .Vast tonnages can be crudely shaped then coated with a thin glaze or veneer to look like a totally precision manufactured product. veneer art– doable in synthetic form from layered spray-built ceramic products– multiple twists and bundling of fibers can make nearly unbreakable structural tension supports of quartz and other rock fibers that do not rot and are stronger than steel. Today on Earth synthetic quartz fiber is an energy hog to produce and very expensive (high temperatures and handling same) but with cheap asteroidal quartz fiber by the megaton, Imagine bridge fibers, ropes, cables, in rotproof, rustproof materials that can last centuries to millenia. The Golden Gate Bridge, being of steel cables, needs constant repainting and maintenance. Quartz-fiber bridges presumably would not. (Tension adjustments are likely, but there would be no metal corrosion)

To save metals, we can imagine twisting high strength fibers and joining with pressurized fused ceramics so the twist of the rope or cable doesn’t unravel. with fiber reinforced ribbon, something like this art can produce macro-structures. In addition, winding ribbon (like long grasses) around foam cores can produce rope-like basket assemblies. The skilled metalworking data is of interest here. If you had to pick one ancient artisan to make a precursor to a machine tool, gold or silversmiths (identical training) could achieve near micron accuracy by hand. the techniques may have analogies to asteroid industry. with layered glass or rock fibers for strength– superperformance papers for building aircraft (coated against moisture) corrosion proof for rigging at sea–
anodizable for fashion now– large rings could form mailwork like structures or the nodes from which a latticework of cables could extend. An analogy to this is possible and indeed some asteroids may contain clay like minerals. Note that superfine particle sizes are the essence of claylike behaviors and may be possible with artificial materials that otherwise would go to waste while mining an asteroid.

Polymer clay is a sculptable material based on the polymer polyvinyl chloride (PVC). It usually contains no clay minerals, and is only called “clay” because its texture and working properties resemble those of mineral clay. It is sold in craft, hobby, and art stores, and is used by artists, hobbyists, and children. One huge product from asteroidal industries would be interior treatments, especially in modular form. an analogy here is possible with foamed rocks and high temperature probes, shaping by removing or penetrating with heat.

the analogy here is to make a complex modular form then spraycoat it with metal in vacuum. Instant complex starship like structural

data storage and decoration

We now come to discuss another on our list of forms: Film. Fibers made into a hoop can capture a bubble (see above) and make a film out of it. This film can be coated and peeled or separated to make continuous production of foils, films and coatings which can be fiber or cloth reinforced during their making.

Suppose for a moment that we could produce vast amounts of fiber-reinforced film sheet. This could be for example transparent (glass fibers in foil) or opaque, or foil joined rigid quilted-together tiny tiles of transparent hardened quartz which would let ultraviolet light through, unlike ordinary glass.

If half were aluminized and half not, one possible use would be power balloons according to the Cool Earth design which Brian Wang has written of.

Using plastic film (aluminized in back, not in front) balloon-shaped concentrators 8 feet in diameter.
Their website says,
Our inflated, balloon-shaped concentrators are key to Cool Earth’s innovative design. Each 8-foot-diameter concentrator is made of plastic film—the same kind of plastic film used to bag potato chips, pretzels, and so on—with a transparent upper hemisphere and a reflective lower hemisphere. When inflated with air, the concentrator naturally forms a shape that focuses or concentrates sunlight onto a PV cell placed at the focal point. This means we need fewer cells to produce a lot more electricity. In fact, a single cell in our concentrator generates about 300 to 400 times the electricity of a cell without a concentrator.

The inflated structure is naturally strong—strong enough to support a person’s weight—and aerodynamically stable, able to withstand winds of 125 miles per hour. Finally, the transparent upper surface protects the PV cell and mirrored surface from the environment, including rain and snow, as well as insects and dirt.

Each concentrator has additional structural components: a small steel strut and a harness. The steel strut, tethered in place, holds the cell at the focal point inside the concentrator and provides a conduit for a small water loop that cools the cell. A lightweight, flexible steel band forms a harness around the circumference of the concentrator and is used to hold and point the concentrator.

A Support System Holds It All in Place…
Solar Concentrators Focus the Sun…

In the Cool Earth design,
2 lbs film (reflector balloon) holds
5 lbs air and is supported by
20 lbs steel

Let’s do some calculations now– 8 ft diameter , radius 4 feet = 1.22 meters

4.67 sq meters area per 2 lbs film 5 lbs air 20 lbs steel

.67 sq meters per kilogram of film and 10 kg steel

If this is so, then 214 tons of film and 2kt of steel per square kilometer of solar collector surface obtained.

Suppose we have (picking a number) a 208 mile circle of solar power collection. (A geostationary mirror—which will use yet more asteroidal film— can focus the power there for 24 hour power on Earth—even at night, even if for example political forces ban microwaving the power down)
208 miles = 334.7 kilometers
208 miles = 334.7 kilometers 88009.804 sq km x 214 tons 18 832 000 tons of balloons, 188 million tons steel required. Raw power output (thermal) about 70 terawatts (around 5 times today’s raw consumption)

Another use– Professor Alexander Bolonkin has suggested biologically isolating farmland against crises (sudden crop freezes, wheat rusts, biological warfare against plants, bee plagues such as “colony collapse disorder” (CCD) that can harm non wind-borne pollinated crops such as fruits, beans, onions, coffee and many others. (Wheat rice and corn do not depend on bee pollination, but the wind spreads their pollen) Also this would help moderating temperatures and reduce water use (depending on leaks) from 90 to 99.9% (the latter figure of savings would need a kind of air lock to keep water vapor in as trucks and workers enter and exit) This could easily use millions of square kilometers of watertight cloth or film.

Richard B. Cathcart of Geographos has also written on many possibilities involving stupendous amounts of cloth and film like substances to ‘terrace’ seas or oceans into interesting multi-level configurations,, pipe water from the Amazon to the Sahara
and perform stupendous other feats of macro-engineering derring-do. Search for his name, he has many papers and ideas out there.

Other interesting ideas might be very large bird sanctuaries for endangered birds hunted by predators, enclosed against intruders. Similar undersea floating bags to enclose and protect vulnerable fish and coral species. In the Great Lakes, a variety of predators borne in shipboard ballast waters has devastated the Midwestern freshwater fisheries. In my father’s day freshwater fish was so cheap it was served in bars as a free lunch to stimulate business. (Then the sea lampreys came, visible in a photo at a link below. They hang onto a fish and vampire it to death. Warning—not for the squeamish) Once the good species (from a gastronomic viewpoint) were thinned out, foreign opportunistic species began crowding out the natives by devouring their natural habitat’s food supplies. When I was a young boy (over 40 years ago)
I remember walking on the shores of Rainbow Beach in Chicago among endless stinking little alewife corpses washing up after a die-off.(Presumably they had eaten themselves into breeding beyond their food supply)

What we are proposing here is not exactly fish farming but rather fencing off a portion of a large lake, eliminating predators in there and letting things be as they were before the intruder species came. It is a kind of restoration made available by square kilometers of quartz-fiber betacloth fabric at unprecedentedly cheap prices. This in turn might enable a restored fishing industry. One can imagine also keeping sharks away from coastal resorts, islands or reefs to make for safe diving.

There are hundreds of analogous uses. Among them might be enabling “biosphere chambers” on commercial farms, to grow produce literally out of natural climate and save on transport and logistic complexities. (This is exactly what a “biosphere chamber” might do on Mars in its own way!)

Professor Bolonkin has proposed what I call “wind dams”– most wind power is very intermittent but by channeling the wind as a mountain does naturally with vast stretches of cloth ‘focusing’ the wind toward an always-running turbine this intermittency can be much improved (although probably still expensive relative to space-sourced solar power. However in the high Arctic this would be quite useful—as a local power source AND wind protection. Jerry Pournelle has written on how the Romans made something like ice cream in the desert by digging pits, lining them with straw, covering them by day and opening them to radiate to space by night, literally achieving passively freezing temperatures within days. Imagining very large installations of this kind might make freezing pykete (where the 14% sawdust is really a space-manufactured fiber product if you examine it in the microscope) ships and seasteads economical (and in additon the frozen form of megastructures to be a scaffolding for a hollow shell permanent floating megastructure such as an airport) Bolonkin’s own proposal for plastic-insulated icebergs

Bolonkin on thin film insulation (with air gap) of iceberg colonies
Floating Cities on Ice Platform

would, with cheaper materials, make possible vast miles long forms, all quartz-fiber reinforced ice inside, but with insulated layers shielding that ice. With such superinsulation all around (including the part of the ice below water) very modest amounts of power would serve to keep those artifical islands frozen, even in the tropics. This is probably the cheapest way to make artificial islands– barring of course the importation of asteroidal quartz-foam custom island foundations from space! If sufficiently low density (say ten meters thick but only a few hundred kilograms per square meter of top surface) these could serve as their own entry vehicles and plop down at sea. People would visit and add coatings of soil, ballast at key points, and human habitations. People have fascinations about islands and one can imagine, a century hence, well vegetated floating islands that appear natural but really are floaters and not projections of the ocean bottom. In a way, the ultimate seastead might be the creation of artificial land!

This discussion of sheltering and segregating entire areas of the planet for more comfortable and productive living begs the question of what doming an area runs today.

Dome and project economics with EFTE
$36.25 a square meter of Dupont ETFE at about $485 for 12 foot by 12 foot by 0.25 mm thick sheet of ETFE (Brian Wang told me this price point)

Performance from -200°C (-328°F)
to 165°C (330°F)

4000 such sheets stacked is a meter thick.144 (square feet) = 13.38 m2 4000 sheets is 13.38 cubic meters. Density 1.7-1.76 (using higher number to divide)
$ 145014 a cubic meter
$82394 a ton

• Blue,red and custom transparent colors available
• Available in cementable
(surface treated) form

Brian Wang wrote:
The Khan Shatyry entertainment center opened on July 5, 2010 in Astana, Kazakhstan. It is the tallest tensile structure in the World and is mostly made of EFTE (the strongest teflon). The $400 million costs include the tent and 7 stories of facilities inside and a concrete base. It covers about 37 acres, so the cost is about $11 million per acre of buildings and tent cover.

1. Check on that– cost of EFTE alone at 36.25 x
2. 37 acres = 149 733.688 m2
3. is 149 733.688 * 36.25 =$ 5 427 846.19

5.428 million just for the EFTE So the $400 million is not driven by EFTE costs.

1. 37 acres = 149 734 square meters
Cost per square meter $2,671.41

Some portion of this probably represents ‘shoehorning’ ie party A was building a dome, and party B said, “If you want a permit for that I want project C included.” Also, ‘bandwagon riding’ ie Party D said, A is building a dome, I want luxury E installed from my favored contractor. Also ‘rent-seekers’ piling on to a gravy train, ie, Party’s F G H and I demanding a piece of the project for letting it happen at all (the equivalent in the USA of municipal taxes, planning fees, zoning variance fees, etc)

More to the point, a $15 million structure with similar footprint is doable on a purely engineering basis (~3x the cost of raw materials, a typical figure) . The cost per square meter then would be $100.16 a square meter.

I suggest that a double EFTE dome and cheaper structure could produce a livable space with minimum energy expenditure for $100-150 per square meter (even ordinary tents would be usable inside in all weather comfort for a total housing cost including plumbing of say $30000 for a 100 square meter ‘house’ )

Either EFTE needs to come down in price or (assuming patent is expired) there is business opportunity in mass EFTE cheapening and commercialization ie at 10% the price, demand would explode. (Triple layer single user EFTE tents would be viable housing scenarios at $15 a square meter with 1 month payback in a high rent area ie $3000 in a 100 meter private 3 layer tent (you live in the well insulated middle, and park your car between the 1st and second walls, away from bird droppings, snow and casual vandals)) What would kill it is uncaring human predators ie its not as solid against a determined assault as a conventional building.

At the Kazakhstan price, a 1 square kilometer dome would be $2.671 billion. At the more reasonable price, a kilometer-scale dome of that size (1.41 kilometers diameter) would be $100 million. But
consider– if the cost to cover a square kilometer were not the present $100 million but say $100,000– 10 cents a square meter, what would happen? (For comparison, some compute the cost of polyethylene film at 1.6 cents a square meter. Of course ultraviolet usually clouds then kills it as it would not kill EFTE. Anti-UV additives may extend that life up to perhaps 4-5 years) If 10 cents a square meter for a delivered dome were a real-market price, replicable profitably to the limits of world demand, much of the world could end up under cover.

Enclosing rainy places by dome or tent would enable collecting massive amounts of rainwater. It would also lessen evaporation so any removed water would be more than balanced.

Enclosing the dry places, to prevent evaporation. (Typically 90% evaporation prevention can be achieved without airlocks, up to 99.9% with simple airlocks, theoretically all with sophisticated airlocks) Considering that in hot dry climates 2/3 of all rainfall is lost in ‘unpreventable absorption evaporation’ ie the hot dust surface area evaporating falling raindrops—with covers most deserts could bear bountiful crops. (The hot evaporating water would cool down at night and drip back down distilled.)

(Source of that statistic Gisser, M., and S. Pohoryles, “Water Shortage in Israel: Long-Run Policy for the Farm Sector,” Water Resources Research, 1977, 13 (6): 865-72.
“In an average year rainfall over Israel is estimated to be 5 x 109 m³; about 3.5 x 109 m³ of this is lost through irretrievable absorption evaporation, leaving only 1.5 x 109 m³ per year to reach the country’s water reservoirs on the surface and underground”)

Even in-between areas with good climate could be enclosed during bad weather or during winter storms, in Florida to prevent citrus-destroying frosts, in Sweden to block Arctic winds, and so on. Entire worlds could be terraformed the cheap way by not terraforming the entire depth of the atmosphere but merely the part near the surface, and that on a modular basis and not as a budget-killing all in one or nothing world wide job. (The dome-enclosures could maintain the proper temperature (radiative/absorptive balance) and pressure, and enclose a breathable atmosphere—breathable at least to plants)

Each square kilometer of enclosure on world or off might be one to several kilotons (million kg) of mass.(1000 square kilometers of mm thick film (or woven microfiber, or foil, or some combination) would weigh a million tons if a kiloton per square kilometer) A million square kilometers of millimeter thick film would consume 1 cubic kilometer of the material. The whole Earth only has 500 million square kilometers of surface area, and 2/3 of that is ocean (but it is certain that people would choose to dome over sections of the ocean to keep storm surges from penetrating to seasteads and coastal communities, the lip of the dome going deep and serving as a surge barrier). Also rainwater falls at sea, and in some areas over 3,000 cubic kilometers of fresh water is available per year of rainfall onto million square kilometer rain collector tents deployed at sea.

1. million square kilometers of such tents would yield a second Amazon, enough fresh water to irrigate the Sahara and grow (for example) massive biofuel or food crops.

To convey it might need Cathcart’s hypothesized bouyant oceanic pipelines

In summary, in the end, one can easily imagine a trillion tons of asteroidal products landing (over several decades say, in wide area, low heating forms since high heating of such an entry mass would cause massive nitrogen oxide pollution ) If so, eventually half the globe’s area could be tented over for reasons of conservation, resource maximization, pleasant living conditions– and even reflecting sunlight so as to cancel global warming– or in the case of a new ice age, to melt the ice through black-colored sun absorption tents.

Professor A.A. Bolonkin’s works extensively speculate on the uses of millions of square kilometers of thin film covers in massive engineering projects.

Bolonkin on thin film insulation (with air gap) of iceberg colonies
Floating Cities on Ice Platform

Bolonkin on
Control of Regional and Global Weather

Bolonkin On AB Mountain cloud mining system

Bolonkin Cathcart on Inflatable Evergreen Polar Zone Dome (EPZD)

AB blanket for climate control protection of cities

One can imagine the advertising of a company making and exporting such massive area covers.
Sherwin-Williams paint company supplies a precedent in terms of ideation for the advertising:
Literally cover the earth (logo)—Obviously this was before the EPA. This was the era when black smoke coming out of smokestacks and locomotives was a sign of progress– literally.
The “Cover the Earth” logo was originally created by SW’s one-man advertising department in the 1890s. It was patented and first used by the company in 1906

Another use for massive areas of film– aerostat construction! (Giant balloons to support huge masses in the atmosphere like mile wide artificial clouds—notice the small size of huge airliners next to fluffy cumulus masses)

Keith Henson’s estimates (simplifying greatly) show that 120 mw of constant electric power for the hydrogen and 2 mw constant power for the CO2 capture can produce the materials needed from air and water for 1000 barrels of oil equivalent a day.(Synthetic oil through a gas shift reaction using 1/3 of the H to reduce the CO2 to CO, then using the mixture of CO and the remaining H to make the hydrocarbon liquids. So a gigawatt of constant power can synthesize 8000 barrels of oil a day, and in a year that is equivalent to about 2.9 million barrels of oil a year. A terawatt of constant electric power would give 2.9 billion barrels a year. The cost at 10c a kilowatt-hour (today) would be, per barrel, around $240-300 (insurance against absolute civilization-breaking price increases if we used thorium molten-salt reactors or space solar power at that 10c a kilowatt-hour price because those are scalable to more than the entire needs of all the world (15 TW today) or even at USA levels of consumption–(say 75 TW for an all USA standard world. Many other power sources like conventional hydro top out at a terawatt or two real potential—24/7 output.) For that 75 terawatt world, of course I am thinking in terms of a USA standard world of huge cars like a vintage Chrysler Imperial of 1961 or 1970, or the full sized finned Cadillac of 1959 or 1967 but there is no reason to be intentionally wasteful! Even with limitless wealth, all places (think Tokyo) do not have limitless room.

Slides by Keith Henson

The prospect of $300 a barrel oil would basically end business as usual. Carpooling would be an economic neccessity, deliveries might be limited to full truckloads– but there would be unlimited availability at that price, and we would not go back to a horse and buggy economy (locally, quite possible at those prices) or lose the ability to fight wars, travel by air, etc.

There is however, every prospect of nearly unlimited 2c per kilowatt-hour power, or even 1c per kilowatt-hour power or even less from those two sources, Thorium and space solar. At that price, nearly unlimited oil and plastics at $30 a barrel (directly drawing down the greenhouse gas surplus WITHOUT the cap and trade Big Brother nightmare) become profitable and so we may eventually hear whining about Peak Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide instead!

What is interesting is that with such a capability to generate massive amounts of hydrogen, and say hydrogen-rich linings of pressure vessels (balloon-shaped) to enable massive lift, we may be able to build massive aerostats using synthetic methane, ammonia, hydrogen, or even (insulated steam) water vapor—(after all, clouds visibly float). By massive I mean cubic kilometer-scale. Considering that a cubic kilometer of air at STP weighs 1.29 million tons, and a cubic kilometer of hydrogen at STP weighs around 90,000 tons, you can see that with a 200,000 ton envelope we could support a million tons of weight– with 5 tons of cabin per inhabitant, and 5 tons of machinery/support stuff, we could trail a hose (really a plastic film kilometer-wide perimeter) like a jellyfish to suck up moist lower air and supply the water needs of the floating 100,000 person city!

The walls of the gas envelope –even if say quartz cloth from the asteroids–might be lined with hydrogen containing plastics to avoid hydrogen embrittlement in metal components

To generate by electrical means starting with water 90,000 tons of hydrogen (at 48kwh/kg, 48mwh/ton, 48gwhr/kiloton) will take 4320 gigawatt-hours– over half a gigawatt year. At a single penny a kilowatt-hour it would cost $10,000 a gigawatt hour or $43.2 million. That is for just a single 90 kilotons of hydrogen aerostat. But barring leaks (and hydrogen WANTS to escape-) this would be a capital cost. Imagine a 30 terawatt world, with 3 terawatts dedicated solely to hydrogen production for hydrogen aerostats.

That is 6083 cubic kilometer capacity aerostats filled (1.4 kilometers diameter). At 100,000 people each in a decade 6 billion people could be living in aerial cities. It would certainly cut urban sprawl. One imagines it would cut transportation costs as well—since in principal at 12 miles an hour net groundspeed no location on Earth would be more than a month away.

On board gardens could produce fresh vegetables embedded in Styrofoam, and of course imports of food or other goods from ship is only a cable raise away from a ship or a transportation terminal or even jungle site just the way our current cities are supported. In fact one of the great advantages of this would be the ability of literally moving your float city within view of a great
sight– say Angel Falls or the Himalayas or Manhattan. (Obviously they could see you too, but a big floating city cluster might, like a balloon festival, be a wonderful multicolored sight—a feature, not a bug)

If they are going to be fixed, however, having them in a straight line would enable very rapid transportation (vacuum levitation tube) literally world wide at near-orbital speeds (At 100,000 people within 1 kilometer of the station, the density is certainly there to support a one-city effect). And there are other transport modes possible—If 10 kilometers apart, and artfully arranged, the levitated cities and pipelines would enable the kind of Cape of Good Horn to Bering Strait to South Africa rapid transit that has long been a dream of vacuum subway advocates. However, an aerial version may actually be more practical than undersea and underground tubes because of lack of continental drift and earthquakes (and sea bottom quakes) Having such vacuum subways available in the high stratosphere (30 km up at a 99% lift penalty ie 10,000 tons lifted instead of a million with hydrogen) would enable a switching track to orbit, where the exiting vacuum levitation vehicle would punch through the Martian thickness atmosphere at that altitude and be in space within seconds (going for example at escape velocity already)

One interesting application for aerostat cities would be supporting yet another huge user of asteroidal industry produced films and fabrics– the ‘atmospheric skyway industry’ (as yet nonexistent!) Consider a chain of aerostat cities over the Atlantic on a straight line or great circle route. Now imagine each supporting its’ section of a ‘pipeline’ or ‘skyway’ with a hydrogen atmosphere inside.

Assuming a design could be found that could resist the sonic boom, it would be a great way to get hypersonic travel with unique advantages. First of all, a ramjet like craft could fly in it (ramjets top out at about 2 kilometers per second = 4 473.87258 miles per hour) but scramjets could take over above that. (Ramjets would need accelerated start up at the start of the tunnel.) Getting up to speed, it enters the hydrogen skyway and burns—oxygen, liquid oxygen from tanks inside (Typically in a 8:1 ratio (the real-life 6:1 ratio in some hydrogen-oxygen rocket engines is to make sure no precious hydrogen goes unburned– but here oxygen is scarce and hydrogen is plentiful). Although massively disadvantaged by burn ratio, the oxygen is much easier to store on board, very compactly and at high density (liquid hydrogen has a density of .07, (67.8 kg·m-3 ) liquid oxygen 1.14) So although the oxygen weighs 8 times more than the hydrogen, the tank holding it (which can be much less insulated) can be 16 times smaller.

From Wikipedia SSTO article
While kerosene tanks can be 1% of the weight of their contents, hydrogen tanks often must weigh 10% of their contents. This is because of both the low density and the additional insulation required to minimize boiloff (a problem which does not occur with kerosene and many other fuels). The low density of hydrogen further affects the design of the rest of the vehicle — pumps and pipework need to be much larger in order to pump the fuel to the engine. The end result is the thrust/weight ratio of hydrogen-fueled engines is 30–50% lower than comparable engines using denser fuels.

Hydrogen has nearly 30% higher specific impulse (about 450 seconds vs. 350 seconds) than most dense fuels.

This tankage weight problem would be greatly reduced with just having to carry LOX tanks and scooping hydrogen from the skyway tunnel..

Assuming free hydrogen to burn, a surprisingly small (read normal) sized craft can carry a surprisingly large (read normal) size payload to near-orbital speeds. There are also other huge advantages– the atmosphere is reducing, not oxidizing, so little char will occur to heat shielding– hydrogen conducts heat well, and the speed of sound is far higher in hydrogen than in air (at 27 °C 1310 meters per second against dry air at 20 °C (68 °F), the speed of sound rate of 343.2 meters per second)

Mach 7 in air would then be equivalent to Mach 25 in hydrogen. This suggests a certain reduction in stresses (and increase in re-usability) in a craft making its speed run in a hydrogen atmosphere.

A possible advantage would be confining the sonic boom to the tunnel. This has kept supersonic travel from being welcomed world wide (and basically killed the Concorde’s overland markets) that and the fuel consumption)
Even if only enabling 4500 mile per hour transoceanic travel (1 hour St. Louis to Paris, 3 hours, London to Australia or anywhere to its antipode if a skyway existed) this would be very interesting in terms of a smaller world effect but higher speeds probably are possible as well (not to mention a Single Stage To Orbit reusable craft being practical if it rode on the back of one of them (I am personally skeptical of launches off the back of other craft; accidents have happened that way–

SR71 Sistership, The MD21 Blackbird Accident
4 min – 14 Nov 2007
Uploaded by Blackbird101

a better strategy might be rearward ejection from the mother craft as was done with bomb ejection from the A-5A Vigilante, or in the T-Space air launch tests. Or as was actually done with a Minuteman I air launched after drop from the rear of a C-5

At subsonic C-5 like speeds, the delta V savings are not much.

The t/Space version of air launch provided only modest performance gains compared to a ground launch (savings of 335 m/s to 550 m/s in booster delta-V … From Mark Wade’s Astronautix site

But we can imagine the equivalent of a pop up vehicle– it goes on a ballistic track out of the tunnel, and in space discharges a vacuum-optimized space booster (that need not be streamlined– like a version of the LM Ascent Module that is (neglecting the ramjet/scramjet) A single-stage to orbit vehicle, one engine, already lit before release, very few failure modes.

High resolution picture of a true vacuum-only space vehicle:

Wikipedia caption at page

The ascent stage of Apollo 17’s Lunar Module “Challenger” rendezvous with Command Module “America” for the journey home after 3 days on the Moon. 14 December 1972

Discussion of optimum staging velocity– remember ramjets peak at 2 km/sec, scramjets can easily reach 5-6 km sec. A small amount of rocket power would be necessary for reaction control.

Analysis shows the optimum staging velocity (the speed at which the first stage is dropped) is very high — possibly 3.65 km/s (12,000 feet per second). This means after separation, the large first stage is at high altitude and headed downrange very fast, which makes it difficult to turn around and get back to the launch point

A scramjet that wished to actually fly to orbit could reach the needed staging velocity and more, and could actually approach close enough to orbital velocity that the last bit could be by rocket.

As actual orbital speed (Mach 25 in air) is approached the thing will pull upward, so the actual ballistic path of the tunnel would be constrained as would top speed– but one can imagine a ‘switching track’ where space-bound craft go sharply upward before using a final kilometer or two a second of rocket delta V from on-board fuel before assuming orbit. As several hydrogen oxygen craft (Saturn 5 second and third stages and Space Shuttle engines pod (not whole Orbiter) with external tank) are theoretically capable of reaching orbit single stage with reduced payloads, and as neither the hydrogen nor the tankage for it need be carried in a hydrogen skyway, that may be a possibility here too.

One can also imagine a nuclear ramjet/scramjet reaching orbit in the tunnel without burning liquid oxygen at all … 3000 degrees Kelvin hydrogen exhausts at 9.8 km/sec and theoretically one could reach orbital speed in the tunnel itself (which presumably would make for interesting stresses on the tunnel walls!–Not to mention the bad 5 seconds when it leaves the tunnel and punches its way through the remaining atmosphere—) The mass ratio would be basically like an ordinary plane. However the nuclear fuel could have no contact with the hydrogen– we don’t want ablating flakes of it cast throughout the long tunnel…

Returning to the subjects of the aerostats that support the floating skyways, aerostat living might also be good training for Venus Colonization.
Consider that in that dense Co2 atmosphere, nitrogen (around 2% of the ‘air’ there) is a lifting gas, and so is air. The colony would have to be at the 50km level, about Earthlike density and temperature, and acid-proof on the outside, but they would be able to mine the surface using high-temperature cables, perhaps of Zylon. They would be able to follow the sunlight in the 4 day supercirculation pattern of the upper Venusian atmosphere, and close the shades for night. One further export for asteroidal industrial production might be whole plop-down colonies, swung by Earth-Moon for a colonist rendezvous (200000 ton payload colonist transfer ship, 2 tons per capital, colonist plus baggage plus key goods) then the colonist transfer ship returns after rematching orbit with Earth-Moon) the colonists ride down the reentry (actually first entry into Venus’ atmosphere, come to rest– and float, beginning their endless summer journey. Venus has room enough for 4.5 million kilometer-scale colonies separated by almost 5 km in each direction (at 100000 people each, 450 billion people) and conditions that would be expensive to replicate in space colonies nearly the gravity of Earth, 90.4%, temperature similar to the tropics (at 50 km free radiation shielding. Venusian air mining and export of CO2 to space (far future) for carbon and nanotech production of diamondoid would in time set the colonies to floating low and eventually landing on a world that literally was terraformed for free as a byproduct of industrial ‘pollution’– the nitrogen atmosphere being diluted by waste oxygen from carbon mining. Even without massive hydrogen imports from the Outer System, Venus might be colonizable on the new surface by use of reflecting film (the day is 243 days long, retrograde ie backwards —longer than the year of 224.7 days) and water (and heat at night) retention greenhouses so the whole planet is divided up into air-conditioned greenhouse squares of say 10 x 10 kilometers. Rock grinding for mining would produce waste soil, and so forth. And there would certainly be plenty of ground heat in the long night (even a shallow dig anywhere could generate ‘geo’ thermal power like Iceland anywhere on the atmosphere-reduced planet.

One motivation for Venus Colonization
I have not heard of so far but will share here, is the possiblity of avoiding a cosmic doom in case of a strong point-source event (say a gamma-ray burster or other radiant point-source that does not throw deadly isotropic radiation all around the sphere of say the Earth or Venus. Suppose such a point-source shone deadly upon the Earth from directly above the north pole. The whole Northern hemisphere would die. But civilization would continue in say Australia or Argentina, though in conditions of semi-industrial collapse and harrowing survivor’s feelings. But suppose now the event occurred say about 30 north in the sky. As the Earth turned, doom would come in turn (perhaps over many months) to those as far as 60 south. (Most mild versions of such radiation deaths might be stopped by a few meters of dirt and so civilization might retreat underground but some postulated events could hit deeper in the Earth than the geothermal gradient would let us live without active cooling– a fantasy on a large long term scale, especially since we would need a source of food) But Venus would have its’ planet’s bulk against part of the celestial sphere for a good fraction of a year—and some portion of humanity might survive that way. I have helped translate to better English an article by Alexei Turchin on the danger for example of a point-source detonation of Outer System fusion isotopes.
A good fallout shelter for that or even more extreme scenarios (short of detonation of the Sun itself ) which is another danger I helped another Russian thinker write an English translation about— Professor A.A. Bolonkin. Protection against such an utterly final event would only be in the cold center of a hundreds of kilometer diameter Kuiper Belt or further object. One more argument for starting with asteroid colonization and moving outward—AND inward!

Back to the topics of space industrial revolution that has enabled these side discussions— Once we have fibers and foam, spheres and film, we can coat each with different substances- through chemical vapor deposition in large reactors (kilometer-scale colony hulls that seal closed to process and open to release finished goods.) If we ever need ice-age prevention black-colored solar tents we can get them with a carbon coat, then a sealing glass coat.

We may also –preferentially– employ physical vapor deposition in the great vacuum. We can mix and match forms — make vast spidery thin spraying targets through a combination of shaped foam subparts, cables, frameworks, space frames, and coat all to form a magnificently complex whole.

In fact, future space epic films may actually have some parts filmed in space with giant sets (that later are sold for space colonies because ‘the movie was filmed there’. Technology moves on but people are the same)

For the foreseeable future, however, human as opposed to effects shots will still be done in studios—but as colonization proceeds, those will move to space as well (many special effects shots in allegedly Earthbound movies would be much safer in zero-gravity– for example, rescue movies, climbing movies, and so forth. Not to mention martial arts and dance epics, in which partial or zero gravity (or even variable gravity) would make possible hitherto unseen movie action effects! (For example, starting a fall in low gravity, gravity increasing (set spinning up) then low gravity again for a soft touchdown– all during a complex dance leap. Yes, it could be done cheaper in simulation– but often reality trumps something artificial. People will pay to see something real even if less spectacular than a fake. Live performances still sell even if not as perfect as studio recordings that are cleaned up, and so on.)

Other cheap commonplace substances which could be produced in quantity– silica fiber and basalt (in fact many different kinds of igneous rock) fiber


Tensile strength 4.84 GPa
Elastic modulus 89 GPa
Elongation at break 3.15 %
Density 2.7 g/cm³ The heat that the material can withstand is:


Glass wool 230 – 250 °C
Stone wool 700 – 850 °C
Ceramic fibre wool 1200 °C

A 6 μm diameter carbon filament (running from bottom left to top right) compared to a human hair.

If these fiber reinforcements were about two or three times the cost of ordinary cement, their availability would enable a new age of woven structures and a massive decrease in the use of iron and steel rebar (reinforcement bar) used in structures (responsible of the orange rust stains on concrete buildings). Concrete without rust-able content can last for millennia as certain Roman structures attest today. With rebar I estimate a couple hundred years as the likely effective maximum lifespan. So we would build greener and more endurably as well.
reinforcing fiber cement foam bricks

Given supercheap energy, the ability to take rock apart to atoms and reassemble it, and to change its form)– to get foam, fiber, film and many combinations and iterations – for example, hard spheres of quartz cheap enough to use as coarse and fine aggregate in concrete– making concrete that is so hard and wear-resistant that its’ almost a new material and can be used in hardened missile silos, for example. Imagine carbon fiber and silica fiber basically as cheap as coal, used instead of re-bar. (instead of rust streaks and buildings collapsing in 100-300 years they might endure for millenia as many iron free Roman buildings have) Many possibilities like that–

So I got to thinking about the uses of unlimited foam— might be like rock-wool but foamy instead of fibrous—like transparent glassy foam of ceramic. And if you could put a hard outside coating– so super-light quartz covered glass foam spheres… or tiles.

Around 1980 in the National Geographic Magazine there were wonderful pictures of the shuttle tiles yellow hot from a furnace with the corners SIMULTANEOUSLY cool enough to touch. (They radiated heat away faster and the heat from the larger mass could not get to them fast enough—similarly I have cut plastic with a steel rod held in my hand on one end and glowing hot on the other) A more recent demo of slow heating of such a tile (with a torch that makes one spot glow yet leaves the rest cool is at

One can imagine similar fiber-reinforced tiles, thermally isolated, engineered for very low density and resistance to water, being equipped with holes through which structurally binding quartz fiber ropes can be put and then the whole mass entered to Earth’s atmosphere to retro and splash down– and float– as rustproof seastead bases.

It is interesting to understand this ancient trick of binding modular blocks and ropes. The ancient Egyptians used this trick– around 4000 years ago! The processes I have described to make fireproof ropes (quartz fibers) to bind the fireproof floating lighter-than-cedar blocks all from asteroidal materials, would undoubtedly amaze the ancient Egyptian magicians and engineers.
Armed with nothing more than soft copper tools and a few rudimentary engineering instruments like plumb bobs and squares the men formed the acacia and cedar logs, the latter transported hundreds of miles from the mountains of Lebanon, into 1,224 separate parts. No nails were used in the construction and the planking was assembled through an ingenious system of stitching through holes vegetable fiber rope. When the wood was swollen by water the ropes would tighten and make the boat watertight.

Read more at Suite101: Khufu’s Solar Boat: The World’s Oldest Intact Ship Rests in Egypt

There are also analogous possibilities in machine building and even furniture assembly,

The block structures we build remotely then splash down to secure with lines and enlarge our future seasteads could be of very intricate and modular construction, and form the Earthly bases of what I have called elsewhere a “Two-World Industrial Bootup” a parallel Earth-Moon development that would aid in a massive bootup to super-developed world economy– along the lines of Brian Wang’s mundane singularity.

Teleoperating remote space equipment from a seastead–People appear to be quite adaptable to time delays up to the few second range. Beyond that it takes many tries to get anything done; but many things can be done even within those constraints. Remote teleoperated building of things in space is to all appearances a practical technology about to happen.
For those not wanting to leave the Earth, seasteading enabled from space would be a key to a more liberty-filled future.

We also note in passing that many shapes are easily formable by spincasting in low gravity–

Drop domes with cushions—if of low enough density and high enough temperature resistance, they can form their own atmospheric entry vehicles– and their won parachute. The cushions around the base could actually serve as an underwater cushion and float support.

Tubes –even on Earth, pipes can be cast. In space, over time, possibly entire colony hulls.
Parabolic mirror domes –A spincast liquid can form a parabola on its surface, then be frozen that way. This phenomenon makes liquid mercury mirrors possible. It also in certain cases makes possible spin casting with only half a mold!

Another interesting idea is the thought of massive new control over nature through metamaterials, elements that are often common arranged sometimes in very precise atomic patterns to enable new properties as if new elements were being applied to a task.

A long standing science fiction dream has been some kind of tough transparent substance. Sapphire is sort of like that but ultimately a ceramic. Science fiction has long dreamed of the Titan crystal of the Tom Corbett Space Cadet series, or the transparent aluminum of Star Trek. But perfect crystals of substances often are wholly transparent. If we could make large ingot sized perfectly transparent crystals of metals– they might have very wide applications (I am thinking pressure portholes in subs, but there are at minimum hundreds of possible uses for a transparent strong tough material. Add cheap as well and it is conceivable houses might be made of it, cars and planes.–for better views. One might well imagine an opaquing effect being desirable at certain times, ie too much sun, or outsider observers present.)

A further use for vast amounts of asteroidal woven quartz-fiber cloth is for massive aircraft big enough to airlift small ship (say up to tens of thousands of tons) to high mountain lakes in the Andes, East Africa, Tibet, or drop landcraft of 100 meter size in high areas to serve as emergency relief facilities in case of an earthquake, or for example to put out entire fires in remote forests in a single 20-kiloton dump of water. After the aerostats these might seem pretty tame but there is a great interest in the idea of a kilometer-scale parafoil kite or powered parachute.
With ground effect levitation lifting power might be greatly enhanced.–Perhaps ten times. When studies are needed upon the matter, they will be performed. only 1000 tons and partly from gas lift
One can imagine a future Great White Fleet as a impress-the-neighbors tour, conveying gifts of field hospitals or other ready-made installations into remote regions of poor countries to be impressed. In the real, non-governmental economy it might pay to transfer mining equipment to remote regions, for example, in this way.
Such huge cloth wind-borne vehicles might be big enough to make using nuclear power in an aircraft finally pay (they also would have the hundreds of meters of space needed for air to act as the radiation shielding between the reactor and control cabin) It may be however that the aerostats will be superior over time in large lift roles. (their lift after all does not drop when airspeed drops). As noted above, a hydrogen 1.4 km sphere (a cubic kilometer of hydrogen) would be able to supply over a million tons of lift– enough to airlift the Empire State Building from its current site to another, with plenty of capacity to spare.

Eventually our cities may be redesigned in this way as property values change over time– developers will realize that whatever market forces that catalyzed the building of their properties has changed, and to maximize their future value received, they will need to move the building. Imagine placing many skyscrapers build over time during various booms in a straight line, and building a monorail between them. This would not only look science fictiony, but actually would be good transportation economics—the density of people per linear mile would be very high.

Another possibility is using these foamed, reinforced tiles and a kind of automation in both CAD design and robot tile-laying to revive a hundred year old-art (based on centuries more of precedent in Europe)–the timbrel vault. Rafael Guastavino was the leading American practitioner of this art.

There are two basic ideas I want to mention, then how they might be used in concert with the third idea (my variant on the foam tiles I had in mind above).

The first is what might be called Timbrel Vault art and Rafael Guastavino tile technology. Basically this is something I saw but did not understand when I was younger. (Luthor’s soaring arched headquarters in the old subway in the 1978 Superman movie) There were vast tiled spaces in arches and I thought they used scaffolds to build them. But in fact the reason (around 1885-1925) that those spaces were build that way in the first place was precisely because they were cheaper– vast open spaces built without expensive scaffolding. The essence is baked clay tile (often glazed) in special thin shapes
(the Mellon Board Room tiles are approximately ¾” thick )

What happens is that they are lined up with thin wooden strips to align them, then the first course is tiled and then 2 or 3 layers go on, the bond of one on the back of the other. So its basically got an enormous stiffness an arched strength, transmitting the weakness of the bond to the strength of the flat, and vice versa. And this with tile! Its all in compression so it does things you would think could only be done with steel. Why did this art go out of favor? I suspect the need for skilled manual labor. Tile vaulted systems for low-cost construction in Africa

If you read only one link here, this is the one—shows tiles in some detail. Also the Smithsonian one below tells the story of this project.

The first basic level of tile vaulting is
very easy to learn, yet this tremendous advantage may be
deceptive or even dangerous. A brick laid does not nec-
essarily mean that the bond is sufficiently strong to en-
sure that the position of the brick does not compromise
the structural form, or that it does not propagate errors in
tiling geometry, which require skill and time to correct.. great pictures. A picture of progress.
There is a video at This is great, beautiful pictures.
The timbrel vault does not rely on gravity but on the adhesion of several layers of overlapping tiles which are woven together with fast-setting mortar. If just one layer of thin tiles was used, the structure would collapse, but adding two or three layers makes the resulting laminated shell almost as strong as reinforced concrete. … While constructing a timbrel vault, workers simply stood on the work of the day before (which was two to four inches thick).
These huge savings in both building materials and construction equipment meant that the Guastavinos could could offer much lower prices than their competitors.

(off topic but same site– a tile thing I saw but didn’t understand what I was looking at when younger– efficient heat from burnables using tile stoves– IF you have a fireproof floor– snug in the coldest winter!

You tube 2 tile thin dome built by students
Further reading : : documenting the works of the Guastavino Company in the Boston area (MIT). The site also hosts the patents and essays of Rafael Guastavino and his son.
Sezer Atamturktur : has very detailed information of the physics behind the technique.

If you want a beautiful coffee table book to look at–

Guastavino Vaulting: The Art of Structural Tile
by John Ochsendorf and Michael Freeman
Princeton Architectural Press, December 2010

The second idea is the idea of Ferrocement Constructions. Basically instead of 4” thick concrete and rebar (thinnest really practical layer) you can use chicken wire in 2 layers with cement between them bent to weird shapes. I saw what I considered to be a rounded concrete fence of massive thickness- over a foot. Then a car hit the corner and I saw it was thin ferrocement either side with a foot-diameter hollow in between. A rectangular tubular frame held the curved hexwire in place to be cemented and trowled smooth…

You can make seaworthy (but heavy—lower fuel efficiency) boats with ferrocement In reality it is steel reinforced plaster (SRP). Introduced more than 200 years ago for boatbuilding (there are still surviving craft almost that age).

The cheapest and easiest form of construction for boats over 25′.

No previous experience is required.

Can be built outside without cover.

Check out our site at for in-depth information

pictures, how-to, and the world of ferroboats.

If the design/method does not include built in floors, it

should not be contemplated under any circumstances.

This man made a shack out of ferrocement–

And the third idea is kind of my combination of them— simply this. Tile construction with space fiber-reinforced glass foam bricks reinforced for ferrocement work. Because (as can be seen from the references above) you DO NOT NEED SCAFFOLDING to build with Guastavino type tile-laying, with superlight fireproof glass-reinforced quartz foam even old weak people and women could build fireproof structures that could float (probably best reinforced with tightened cables and more mortar or cement before sea launch) or simply serve their purpose on land. Structural units assembled on land could also become seabed modules lowered with cables to their working location and capable of withstanding tremendous compression forces to enable dry mining at great depths (say up to the average depth of the ocean, 3800 meters, which would enable the vast majority of seabed deposits to be worked with non explosive robotic tunneling equipment)

Guastavino tile system building is nearly scaffolding free to erect but takes massive skilled, strong labor– but a kind of CAD for tile placement plus a comprehensive family of bricks (ideally and a robot system to place them) would enable many home industries from boat building to roofing to shipyard like construction of custom concrete or ferrocement goods.

Jerry Pournelle suggested that cheap energy plus freedom equals prosperity. We have the cheap energy and a free place to live in this scenario– so people would undoubtedly search for marketable products to design and produce…


Recall that many who dwell on Earth in that time may literally teleoperate space industries within the light-speed control radius (perhaps a couple light-seconds at most, ideally less than that) of the Earth-Moon system.

Silicon and silica micro-machine products would be ideal as a export product of lunar waste silicon as well as asteroidal. The design would be the value added, the materials utterly commonplace. (Reducing silicon from sand is not easy on Earth,
but very easy in space—just heating silicon dioxide sufficiently will start it decomposing to an extent.. Also in space is the energy needed to process it and the vacuum needed to form it to the micro-machines. Literally to export a quarter or more of the mass of the raw asteroid or lunar regolith mined in the form of micro-machines and micro-structures which will be (by various processes, some of whose antecedents exist today such as MBE ) formed at the thickness rate of a micron an hour or less. To process a cubic kilometer at this rate per year would require millions of square kilometers of growing surfaces– which in space, there is room for. On Earth, the idea would be a joke as the process requires high vacuum.
which will become ubiquitous owing to their cheapness and customizability. Today the amount used of these machines is minimal though vital (collision sensors for car air bags is an example). But imagine making an entire house out of them, and having them assemble themselves into that house on provision of external power (for example a one time fuel loading upon receipt of a box with a ‘fueling tree’ attached to each little distributed micro-machine. After that they break free from the tree, they crawl around to form the design, and weld themselves in place, never to move again. The key is a custom configuration, user programmable realizable in seconds after fueling. This is nice enough with something like a decorative wall, but imagine custom macro machines made by fusing self-deployed micro-machines, and you have just cut down the engineering time for a new form factor, and shortened entire product loops, corporate life-cycles and increased the wealth generation capability of each decade enormously.

Of course this would benefit the arms industry as well unless peace breaks out

A similar effect might be obtained with claytronics. Brian Wang has written of them–
there he says (Note– catoms are claytronics atoms, the single micromachine in the analogy above)

Displacement of current displays, computers, TVs and cellphones with claytronics will require that the useful amount of Claytronics cost $100-5000. The $5000 figure is for Claytronics displacing high end electronics like big screen televisions.

Millimeter size catoms: To fill a one foot cube (30cm X 30 cm X 30 cm), you would need 27 million catoms.

Hundred Micron size catoms: To fill a one foot cube (30cm X 30 cm X 30 cm), you would need 27 billion catoms.

Ten Micron size catoms: To fill a one foot cube (30cm X 30 cm X 30 cm), you would need 27 trillion catoms.

Micron size catoms: To fill a one foot cube (30cm X 30 cm X 30 cm), you would need 27,000 trillion catoms.

27 billion transistors on one computer chip costs more than $1000 now. This price is falling all the time, but making 27,000 trillion micron catoms for less than $5000 would take a long time with current price progress.

Another wealth creation center will be the creation of elaborate models possibly along the lines of the micromachine architecture mentioned above. Very few people with room to display it would not secretly like a dollhouse or model railroad, but imagine miniature architectural models of your entire downtown city, or incredible museum quality displays of zillions of different patterned marbles, egg patterns, knots, vast toy collections, (how many Bruce Wayne like characters in fiction and comics have ‘weapon lined library’ retreats) a replica Scrooge McDuck money room (with Titanium Nitride coated golden facsimile coins, but from a distance…) Of course then you would need more mansion space to put this in– this sounds like our discussion of hyperwealth in another article. All these could use vast amounts of one-time claytronics or micromachines. We have not discussed working models but they easily could do so (remember one of the uses was building fully functional prototype—or production– machinery of new designs)–Rideable miniature railways are old news, but one can imagine a park to ride through of animated toy villagers going about their ‘lives’ and so on. Smaller scale private working miniature models or cities when broken, and the passive structure remains but the active structure is dead, could go outside as a garden model. (also furnishings and scale artifacts)

For an example of a hyperwealth style mansion of a person who literally did have a set of almost anything, look through both parts of this article with fantastic pictures—

Most intriguing of all are not the luxuries and entertainment systems we can imagine, but those we cannot yet. The uninvented, the not yet designed. What new delights does the future hold for us?

One of the key themes of the future will be, the mundane singularity making wealth from common materials in the solar empire. Fiber-optics for reinforced transparent structures from waste silica rock, metamaterials of all descriptions bringing wealth by substituting for scarce elements because of their custom properties
Most intriguing use of an asteroid–common materials become jewels. As long ago as the 19th Century, fused alumina could become rubies or sapphires– but the boules of these fusing apparatus were small and imperfect.

On an interesting note in Jewish tradition, it has long been expected that when Jerusalem is ultimately rebuilt in the indefinite future it will have macro-scale jewel like structural elements in its composition, very large in size. This was recorded long before synthetic jewels were ever dreamed of. So you never know— what I like to call “Jerusalem 30.0” (reference to the many times the city has been built and rebuilt in many stages and archaeological layers—indicating the future version of Jerusalem–)— “Jerusalem 30.0” may yet have some remarkable tourist attractions for visiting jeweler conventions!

Briefly, in the future common materials will become jewels on a vast scale. Also non-jewel rocks that are pretty as marble or tiger’s eye. Micro-gravity will assist in forming large crystals. And deposition of materials with near atomic precision will enable large patterned artifacts of jewel like characteristics.

Today we manufacture synthetic diamonds (cutting) rubies (bearings) and sapphires (aerospace applications) but on a scarce enough level that they still command a certain impressiveness. When they can become common structural materials, to be enjoyed in all their beauty and full color, cities will become resplendent. Of course bad taste is possible (try likely) with any new extravagant display capability, so we can imagine machine-gunned jewels spelling family names on house exteriors and so forth. But ultimately the storm of kitsch will dissipate and the calm of a refined taste prove its enduring worth. polishing even synthetic stones

when square meters of gems are cheap, new mosaic art will flourish –the same for stained glass

In the end, greater wealth helps spread at least the awareness of refinement to more and more people. Space industrialization will make the awareness of refinement very widespread indeed. After that, actually choosing the refined option from those before us– well, that is up to us.

If you liked this article, please give it a quick review on ycombinator or StumbleUpon. Thanks