O’Neill Cylinder


For day fifteen of the A-to-Z challenge, I thought I would take a brief break from fiction and take a look at a type of space station. O is for O’Neill Cylinder, which some may know it as “Island Three,” where Island One and Island Two are the comparatively much smaller Stanford Torus and Bernal Sphere.


Interior of an O’Neill Cylinder. Public domain photo from Wikimedia.

Proposed by physicist Gerard O’Neill, the design was for two side-by-side counter-rotating cylinders, each five miles in diameter and twenty miles in length, connected by a support structure.

Each cylinder would consist of six alternating strips of “sky” (transparent windows and mirrors to allow sunlight into the cylinder) and “land,” providing a habitable surface area of over 100,000 acres. Maneuvering would be handled without thrusters, by taking advantage of the angular momentum of the cylinders.

Variants of the O’Neill Cylinder have been seen fairly often in science fiction.

Babylon 5
“Humans and aliens wrapped in two million, five hundred thousand tons of spinning metal… all alone in the night.” – From the Babylon 5 season 1 opening monologue


“The mass of Rama was at least ten trillion tons; to any spaceman, that was not only awe-inspiring but also a terrifying thought.” – Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke

Brian Versteed provides the Kalpana One space settlement concept. While it’s closer in size and design to a Stanford Torus, there’s some rather nice artwork of the concept.

Orion’s Arm has a page with concept art for a McKendree Cylinder. An enormously scaled-up version of an O’Neill Cylinder, a McKendree Cylinder can have as much land area as a small continent.

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