Section E: Space Engineering Methods

[This section is still very preliminary]

This section addresses long-term speculative development of space resources

on a large scale, i.e. "worldbuilding".

E.1 Methods of Finding Resources

E.2 Inventory of Resources

E.2.a Matter resources in the Solar System

The Sun.

[mass, composition]

The Gas Giants.





Planets and Satellites With Atmospheres






Larger Airless Bodies

Small Bodies

Small Moons





Interplanetary dust

Gas and solar wind

E.2.b Energy resources in the Solar System

The Sun.

[hydrogen to helium fusion energy]

[other nuclear reactions]

[stored thermal energy of sun]

[gravitational collapse energy]

The Planets.

[latent heat of formation - Jupiter]

[nuclear decay]

[fusion energy of hydrogen]

[non-equilibrium chemistry(fossil fuels)]

[stored thermal energy]

[gravitational potential of satellites & planets vs. Sun.]

E.2.c Matter resources in the Galaxy

The mass of the Galaxy

Dark Matter

E.2.d Energy resources in the Galaxy

Power output

Energy reserves


[Gravity collapse]

E.3 Methods of Extracting Resources

Most of the visible mass in the Universe is inconveniently located in the

interior of large bodies, where it hard to get to. In fact spheres, the shape

which many large objects approximate, have the least surface area for a

given volume. In other words, the ratio of relatively inaccessible material in

the interior to accessible material on the surface is a maximum. Another

problem is that useful metals, such as Iron, tend to collect in the center

of planets, where pressures and temperatures are both very high.

To obtain sufficient raw materials for large projects, dismantling of large

bodies may be required. This can be considered mining in the limit of

mining the entire body. This section lists mining/dismantling methods

which are not covered by conventional mining processes followed by

launch using one of the methods in section D.

E.3.a Extracting Matter Resources from Sub-Planetary Bodies

E.3.b Extracting Matter Resources from Terrestrial Planets

E.3.c Extracting Matter Resources from Jovian Planets

76 Mechanical Disruption

This is the brute-force method. One approach involves directing a large

body at high speed at the planet. The other approach is to collect deuterium

and helium-3 and use them to make a really big thermonuclear device.

77 Spin-Up to Orbital Speed

This method involves increasing the already fast rotation rate of the planet

until the equator is at orbital velocity. Removal of material from the equator

to orbit becomes a simple matter. There are a number of techniques for

increasing the rotation rate:

Spin-up techniques

Differential light pressure

Aerobraking momentum transfer

Repeat maneuvers

High speed angular momentum deposition

Magnetic coupling

Gravity coupling (using subsynchronous satellites to raise tides)

Reaction motor

78 Boiloff

This method involves reversing the way the planet formed in the first place.

Jovian planets form by collapse of a gas cloud as it radiates away energy.

Our largest planet, Jupiter, is apparently still radiating away excess heat

today, after 5 billion years. If excess solar energy is directed at a jovian

planet, it will heat up and reverse this process.

79 Scoop Mining

E.3.d Extracting Matter Resources from Stars

E.4 Uses for Resources

E.4.a Matter Resources

80 On-site fuel extraction

Alternate Names:


Description: If you don't have to bring it with you, your mass ratio





[E1] Ramohalli, K.; Ash, R.; Dowler, W.; French, J. "Some Aspects of

Space Propulsion with Extraterrestrial Resources", Journal of Spacecraft

and Rockets v 24 no 3 pp 236-44, 1987.

81 Comet consumption en-route

Alternate Names:


Description: Interstellar missions require a lot of propellant. In this

concept, several comets are intercepted by a propulsion unit that comes from

the 'mother ship'. The propulsion unit consumes part of the comet to bring

the rest of the comet up to speed, and then uses the remainder to further

accelerate the mother ship. This allows somewhat better velocities than

starting with all the fuel onboard at the start of the mission.




82 Solar Sails from FeNi Asteroid

Alternate Names:


Description: To recover large amounts of material from the asteroids,

Iron-nickel alloy can be rolled into foil, and then used to make solar sails.

If what you want to extract is steel, then it sails itself back to where

you want it. If you want some other material, you can make large amounts

of sail area fairly simply (you need the functions of a rolling mill - a way to

heat the material and a way to force it between two rollers to make thin

sheets. Steel is not as light as aluminum-magnesium alloy as a sail material,

and it is not as good a reflector, but it is readily available in large

quantities in asteroids and does not need a lot of processing to make into a

useable form.




83 Structural materials

Alternate Names:


Description: A variety of structural materials can be made from local

materials in space, thus reducing the amount of material that has to be

brought from Earth. Examples include Iron-nickel from that type of

asteroid, and from meteoroid dust on the lunar surface (which only require

magnetic separation), and cast or sintered rock, using solar heating to melt

random rock into useful shapes.




E.4.b Energy Resources

84 Solar Power Stations

Alternate Names:


Description: Sunlight in space is not affected by night, clouds, or

atmospheric absorbtion. A large solar power plant can produce power, then

send it elsewhere using an efficient microwave beam. Example uses are to

deliver power to Earth from orbit, and to deliver power to a Mars lander

using the transit vehicle solar array.



84a Planet Surface

84b Orbiting

84c Photovoltaic

84d Solar-Thermal


85 Atmospheric Laser

Alternate Names:


Description: Lasing medium is the atmosphere or ionosphere of a planet

or satellite.




E.2 Methods of Reducing Payload Mass/Volume

86 Closed Life Support

By recycling part or all of the materials used to sustain life, the amount of

stored supplies or newly delivered supplies can be reduced. If coupled with

local extraction of life support supplies, can reduce the amount of extraction

required. Water, air, and food are the principal items that can be recycled.

87 Inflatable/Erectable Structures

For launch from a planet it may be useful to collapse a structure into a small

package. Once on location it is inflated or assembled to form the finished


88 Recycling upper stages

A conventional rocket takes the final stage, along with the payload, into

orbit. By re-fueling the stage, or by converting the stage tanks and

structures to another use (such as an occupied pressurized module), some

payload weight and volume is saved.

Status: The Skylab space station was made from a converted Saturn V 3rd

stage. A number of studies have been done on re-using Space Shuttle

external tanks for other uses such as pressurized living space.

89 Fabricators/Replicators

A general-purpose factory system can make a wide variety of products,

including copies of most or all of it's own parts. Then a small seed factory

can grow to a large production capacity with a high output product to intial

payload mass ratio.


(NASA Study: "Advanced Automation for Space Missions", early 1980s)

90 Nanofax Transmitter

The energy to transmit the description of an object to another star, even at an

atom by atom level, is about a million times less than the energy to

physically move the object from one star to another. Thus, after the first

probe sets up a receiving/replication station at the other star, other objects

are more efficiently scanned, transmitted, and reconstructed at the receiving

end. Using atomic scale technology (such as scanning tunneling microscopes)

it may be possible to send

people this way. The subjective time to travel at the speed of light is zero.