Project Hyperion: The Hollow Asteroid Starship – Dissemination of an Idea

Asteroid starship arriving at an alien world by David Hardy, from [4]


A large space mirror heats up an asteroid, slowly melting it. Water, which was injected into the center of the body expands, blows up the melted material,  creating the shape of a balloon. After cooling down, rotation is induced into the hollow body creating artificial gravity. An artificial fusion Sun brings daylight to the dark interior.  A team of bio-life-support system experts, urban planners, and ecologists starts to create an artificial world inside the balloon, preparing it for the first settlers. The small world is then provided with a propulsion system and launched to one of the next stars or used as a space colony.


Gatland - Astroid starship

Asteroid starship construction from [3]


Dandridge Cole imagined this vision of constructing a manned starship / space colony in the 60s in his book “Islands in Space: The Challenge of the Planetoids” [1]. His concept was picked up several times, for example in the book “Macrolife” by George Zebrowski [2]. One of the most popular accounts to the concept was made in the book “The World of the Future – Star Travel” by Kenneth Gatland and David Jefferis [3]. David Hardy also imagined how such a concept might look like in Carl Sagan’s well-known “Pale Blue Dot” [4]. Gerard O’Neill himself takes account on Cole when he introduces his idea of space colonies, although his colonies are made largely of material from the Moon [5].

Although the original concept of directly melting an asteroid is probably not very attractive, Cole created an important link between artificial space colonies and manned interstellar flight. This link was later recited by Gerard O’Neill and Gregory Matloff [5, 6]. Both see space colonies as a precursor to generation and colony ships, in order to gain experience with sustaining life in space over extended periods of time. Whether or not such a logical link between space colonies and manned interstellar flight exists, is currently assessed within Project Hyperion. This is a vital issue as its clarification helps to identify technology paths to realize manned interstellar flight.


[1] Cole, D. M., and Cox, D. W. “Islands in Space: The Challenge of the Planetoids”. Philadelphia, Chilton Books, 1964.  

[2] Zebrowski, G., “Macrolife: A Mobile Utopia”. Harper & Row, 1st edition, 1979.

[3] Gatland, K., Jefferis, D., “World of the Future – Star Travel”, Usborne Publishing, 1979.

[4] Sagan, C., “Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space”, Random House, 1st edition, 1994.

[5] O’Neill, G.K., “The Colonisation of Space”, Physics Today, 27, No. 9, 32-40, September 1974.

[6] Matloff, G.L., “Utilization of O’Neill’s Model I Lagrange Point Colony as an Interstellar Ark”, Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, Vol. 29, pp. 775-785, 1976.