In his 1977 publication The High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space, particle physicist Gerard K. O’Neill outlined his vision for the colonization of space in Earth’s orbit. It concluded nearly a decade of intensive research and academic collaboration, resulting in a detailed outline for the colonization of outer space based on the technology of the Apollo and Skylab programs. Although much has transpired to update the technology humanity would employ in its colonization of outer space, Professor O’Neill’s “Island” typology has proved enduring. Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin is only the latest example of the typology at work on the present day space market, with advances in computing, engineering, and materials manufacturing doing much to clarify many of the questions O’Neill could not answer in 1976, and in the case of his Island-3 design, those advances have only strengthened its viability.
In the universe of 2100 CE, a variety of space colonies exist alongside one another, with some becoming obsolete with the passage of time and new ones being constructed to replace them. O’Neill’s general typology is used throughout, with a few basic modifications. What follows is a brief overview of colony types at the outbreak of war between the international Confederation and the Galilean League, 1 Jan 2119:
Two types –nearly identical but for size — characterize the earliest design of space colony. Engineered to house a population of 10,000, these original colonies were used as test-beds for future endeavors, serving the long-term needs of the construction and support personnel engaged in the construction of larger designs.
The Bernal sphere design was the most common of the Island-1 type, consisting of a spherical living area rotating about its axis at 2 rotations per minute (rpm). The resulting centrifugal forces produce simulated terrestrial gravity along the sphere’s equator, with steadily declining artificial gravity as one approaches the zero-gravity environment at the colony’s axis. Sunlight is fed to the colony’s interior by way of mirrors which orient the reflected sunlight in through massive windows located on either end of the colony. Although an initial six were ordered, only four of these types of space colony were constructed.
At the outbreak of the war, no colonies of the Island-1 design remained in use across the solar system, having been broken up and their parts reused in the construction of later colonies.
An enlarged version of the Bernal sphere design, the Island-2 version proved more economically viable to its smaller cousin. With a spherical diameter of nearly four miles (6,500 meters) to the Island-1 ‘s one (1,600 meters), the colony could theoretically house a maximum population of 40,000. The explosion in space colonization which this spurred quickly pushed the design to its limits, with the colony of Clearwater reaching a population of nearly 60,000 before its annexation by the neighboring Commonwealth of Alba.
Of the twenty Island-2 types which were originally constructed, two were still in use at the outbreak of war, Clearwater at the Earth-Lunar Lagrange point 5 and Mahon, an Island-2 colony converted for use as a military base in Callisto’s orbit.
Designed by Gerard K. O’Neill himself, this type of colony has proved the most successful in the expanding humanity’s reach in outer space. The station is designed around a colony of individuals living within an O’Neill cylinder, a hollow artificial construction rotated about its length to simulate full terrestrial gravity along the length of the cylinder. Large-scale zero gravity facilities delineate either end of the cylinder, with the exterior of the south end connecting the cylinder to its petal-like mirrors. These “strips” of mirrors run the length of the colony cylinder, reflecting sunlight into the colony exterior via matching strips of windows on the colony cylinder.
Three windows reflect sunlight down on matching strips of habitable land which run the length of the cylinder interior. Each portion of land is divided into three basic environments: a mountainous region at either end of the colony rising to the cylindrical axis, with large metropolitan areas at the foot of each “mountain”; a piedmont region of rolling hills and suburban neighborhoods; and finally wilderness at the cylindrical center, with some colonies opting for open plains, others for seas and beaches, still others for walls of forest, jungle, or artificial mountains to bisect the colony.
The Island-3 design proved even more efficient than its predecessors, with early versions capable of housing populations of three million being quickly eclipsed by versions capable of supporting populations in the tens of millions. This was helped by the simple mechanics of keeping a rotating cylinder in stable orbit, requiring the coupling of cylinders into binary pairs, effectively doubling the support systems for the combined double-colony. By the outbreak of war, the Island-3 design continued to house the majority of space settlers living within the Terresphere.
Island Three/Closed (Island-3C)
A modification of the basic O’Neill design, the O’Neill closed-type eliminates the window panels from the cylinder in exchange for a series of mirrors similar to those of a Bernal sphere or entirely artificial sunlight. A full-scale version would theoretically be capable of housing twice the population of its corresponding “open-type” O’Neill cylinder, although only smaller versions have been constructed.
At the outbreak of the war, these smaller versions of the Island-3C type are common among asteroid mining colonies, where innovations in 3D-printing have allowed the cylinders to be constructed entirely within the confines of an asteroid, providing the colony’s residents with shielding against solar radiation. At the outbreak of war, these colonies typified the mining operations administered by corporations on Ceres and Juno, and were on the whole isolated communities. An engagement fought between the Confederation escort carrier Leopard and separatist warships permanently disabled the use of one such colony in the Gitano mining cluster, resulting in hundreds of deaths and a subsequent reconsideration of this colony type.
Island Three/Extended (Island-3E)
An innovation on the standard O’Neill cylinder, Island-3E lengths the cylinder to the design’s structural limits, fielding a design capable of supporting a population of 70 million, greater than the population of entire nation-states on Earth. Initially merely a proof-of-concept, the population boom which followed the first wave of extraterrestrial settlers turned the design into a reality, coming to replace the Island-3 type outside the confines of the Terresphere.
When the war began, the majority of Island-3E colonies resided in high Martian orbit, with clusters at the Sun-Earth Lagrange points 4 and 5, Delos and Tenedos respectively.
A hypothetical design proposed for deep-space colonization. Populations would range in size from 70 to 120 million, intended to be used in reconstituting an entire nation-state with its own government and independent economy. The colonies would be placed in distant orbits at the solar-planetary Lagrange points 4 and 5 of Venus, Earth, Mars, and Jupiter. The design would incorporate heavy radiation shielding through advances in the processing of lunar and asteroidal byproduct.
A prototype was begun by the government of Europa in the years leading up to the war, a portion of which the Confederation Fourth Fleet encountered near Saturn. This hitherto hypothetical design would become an urgent reality for the Confederation at the war’s end.