Side by Side




Mobile Suit Gundam: High Frontier

Life In The Universal Century

Side by Side


In the Gundam world, the term “space colony” is synonymous with “Space Island” and refers to an individual orbital habitat of any type, not to a collection of habitats as the name suggests in English. Like Terrestrial islands, a space island is a world unto itself with a complete, self-contained ecology. All of the necessities of life are recycled somewhere within, with no need of replenishment from without.

Inhabitants of these colonies are called Spacenoids; their Terrestrial counterparts are Earthnoids. Each urban/suburban or civic/residential center is thus a “city-state” within the three to six “prefectures” of an individual space island.

Space colonies are linked together in ballistic coupled pairs within the same orbit, 80 kilometers (50 miles) apart. This “provincial” unit is called a “Bunch” and 50 to 80 such Bunches in mutual orbit within the same Lagrange point form a “nation” of sorts. This national unit is called a “Side.” More than one Side may orbit within the same Lagrange point, but their orbits will be as separate as if they were in different regions of space entirely. With a population of 3- to 10-million (open type) or 6- to 20-million (closed type) per colony, each Bunch supports 20- to 50-million people, for a grand total of one to two billion inhabitants per Side.


The issue is further confused by the fact that O’Neill envisioned his colonies being built not as single units but as ballistically coupled pairs, 80 kilometers (50 miles) apart.

Was the “population of ten million people” cited by O’Neill for the population of both cylinders (i.e., five million people per unit) or the population of each cylinder (i.e., twenty million per pair)?

The idea of the Bunch as a pair of colonies was apparently forgotten even before Gundam went into production. Z Gundam uses both the terms “Bunch” and “colony” to indicate a single space habitat.

Tomino never used the term “Bunch” in his novels, although he states in Gundam I: Awakening that the colonies were originally “thirty kilometers long and … later doubled in size” without being more specific. Officially, then, each individual colony is called a Bunch and referred to both by a name (e.g., Shangri-La in Zarn or Libot in Reah) and a numeric designation (e.g., Bunch 1 in Side 1 or Bunch 35 in Side 6).

For myself, I prefer the original (and now largely forgotten) O’Neill design specifications described above, paired Bunches and all.

(On 12 September 2002, Julian H. Fong wrote me to note that, while the Gundam animation and artwork ignore it, there’s an important reason why O’Neill colonies must be ballistically coupled pairs. A single cylinder, rotating independently, is gyroscopically stable but it’ll always point toward the same point in space and thus only faces the Sun once a year. In the O’Neill design, the paired cylinders rotate in opposite directions, so the net angular momentum of the system is zero and the linked cylinders can be made to precess with a one-year period, keeping them aligned with the Sun. Without this precession, and the zero angular momentum necessary to achieve it, the “sunflower” illumination scheme simply won’t work!)

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Last Update: 01 January 2017

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