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What if some colossal catastrophe occurs on Earth? What if human populations grow faster than what the planet’s resources can sustain? Does humanity have a Plan B? According to United Nations Population Division, populations grow at a rate of around 1.07% (82 million people) per year, with no cessation in sight. Progressive entrepreneurs believe that in order to survive, humankind needs to set its sights beyond Earth. Here, at the Noosphere Ventures, we are more close to the idea of listening to the pulse of the planet Earth, solving its problems and then slowly move forward to the Moon.
Maybe you do not share this bleak outlook. But there is one more important factor: the human desire to discover the unknown. This alone is enough to bring brave souls to blast off from Earth.
Before signing to the mission to colonize Moon or Mars, be prepared to say goodbye to the familiar bedroom and kitchen comfort. During space travel, the usual big bed with a soft mattress and a warm blanket is a luxury long lost. Every extra kilogram of cargo sent into space is incredibly expensive, so engineers plot to make things light, comfortable and functional during a long-haul flight. This applies primarily to the design of furniture and interior spaces the colonists will live with on the Red Planet, Moon or space stations.
In 1869, the American writer Edward Everett Hale described, for the first time in literature, a space settlement. In his story published in the monthly magazine The Atlantic, he talked about a spacecraft sent to near-earth orbit in the form of a brick sphere with a diameter of sixty meters.
Fifty years later, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky published a book “Beyond Earth”, which tells tales of space colonists. Tsiolkovsky wrote about the need for growing plants in space and on other planets, described the method of creating artificial gravity and said that it would solve most of the medical problems of space travellers. Of course it was just an idea, but a progressive one for its time.
Tsiolkovsky used the concept of “ether settlements”. He believed that one part of the planet’s population would live on the flying ring, some sort of space station, which consists of vehicles, buildings and parts of asteroids.
Let’s say we will succeed. Would people living or born in space be different from us today, and how might their homes differ from those on Earth? The eyes of researchers are turned to Mars and our Moon. The initial steps are planned to be made in the period up to 2025.
How to build a house on the Moon, Mars and in open space
It would be understandable that Mars is more suited for the role of a future colonization site. And yet the Moon retains a number of advantages, the first of which is the proximity to Earth, which means a quicker flight time. Colonizers will have to use materials on hand, rather than transport items from far away. On Earth’s moon, you can anticipate emergencies and such and, in case of danger, the flight from Earth would just be 3 days, while the journey to Mars would last 7 months.
Due to the limited payload capacity for space travel, technologies to aid in building are key for space colonization.
Currently, we can distinguish three projects that promise processes for fast and safe construction on the Moon: Solar Sinter, D-Shape and Bigelow modules. Each project proposes to manufacture building blocks directly on the Moon using regolith (friable, dust-assorted fragmental layer a few meters in depth made up of igneous rocks, minerals, and meteorites, and contains aluminium, iron and titanium) as a building material, 3D-technology and inflatable modules.
Solar Sinter technology is based on regolith sintering technology with the help of sunlight and could be used on the Moon surface.
The idea to use the desert sun as a source of energy and raw materials is the concept of German 3D-designer Marcus Kaiser. Kaiser created a Solar Sinter (Solar agglomerator) – machine using solar cells to power all parts of a 3D-printer, ranging from the electronics to the various mechanical components. To focus the sunbeam, the agglomerator uses a large size Fresnel lens, which enables a temperature from 1400 to 1600 degrees Celsius. This way, the sun not only feeds the device with energy but also melts sand, turning it into a viscous material suitable for creating volumetric objects.
The company Foster + Partners, headed by architect Norman Foster, creator of the famous London skyscraper “cucumber”, proposed hinged “domes” as a supporting structure for moon settlements.
The D-Shape 3D-printer has already proven its capability creating several one-and-a-half-ton building blocks from a substance 99.8% identical to the lunar regolith. In order to increase the strength of the structures on the Moon, engineers plan to add magnesium oxide in the printed substance, which would most likely be transported from the Earth.
Bigelow Aerospace proposed to use inflatable modules – they are much lighter than the correlating metal modules, resistant to radiation and occupy less space in a disassembled state.
The first Bigelow modules were sent and tested in space in 2006 and 2007. In April 2016, another module was launched and docked to the International Space Station. Over the next two years astronauts tested the modules’ ability to maintain pressure, radiation, meteorites and space debris. Later, inflatable modules could be adapted for Moon missions.
The cost for Bigelow Moon settlement modules is still unknown, but for commercial customers the BA 330 module (basic version of the module) located in space would cost $25M in order to rent a third of the station (i.e., 110 cubic meters) for a period of 60 days. These prices would include consumables, all on board research equipment, a full-time Bigelow Aerospace crew, astronaut training and the ability to take several kilograms of finished research products back to Earth.
The case for Mars colonization
In just 7 months you can reach Mars, as it is, other than Venus, the closest planet to Earth. Mankind is already developing technologies that will get us to Mars. Some companies swear that in the next few decades they will establish a permanent base there, set up mining operations and even terraform the planet in order to simplify the life of future habitants.
At the moment, there are no ready-made technologies for building a habitat on Mars. In fact, everything is limited to sketches and plans, which is less than what is available for Moon projects. To jumpstart concepts, NASA started the 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge for architects, engineers and scientists in 2015. All projects maintained common conditions: create some or all of the elements of the building on a 3D printer, ensure availability of life support systems as plumbing, fixtures, and places for cooking and sleeping.
The program, in which participants submitted a virtual model of space housing, contained a large set of parameters.
In other words, the teams did not just have to create an aesthetic building but also ensure the thickness of the walls, heating, sealing and other elements would truly withstand conditions on Mars.
One of the top ideas coming from the NASA 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge 2015 was posited by the LavaHive project. LavaHive is a modular and additive-manufactured Martian habitat design proposing an innovative ‘lava-casting’ construction technique, as well as utilizing recycled spacecraft materials and structures. The design incorporates usually discarded components as a key element of the habitat concept. The back shell of the Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL) system that deliver the construction rovers would be used for the primary habitat roof, with an inflatable module underneath as the primary living habitat.
The finalists of NASA 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge 2019 included five teams from the United States: Zopherus, AI Space Factory, SEArch+/Apis Cor, Kahn-Yates and Northwestern University team.
AI.SpaceFactory’s approach tested significantly stronger results. For example, according to IEEE Spectrum, when a 96-ton Caterpillar’s excavator pressed the structures from the top, the egg-shaped composite structure designed by AI Space Factory hardly budged. Only a tiny bit of the material broke, leaving the building intact. In another test, a 29-pound ball was fired onto the structures, causing serious damage on other participants designs but none for AI.SpaceFactory.
AI Space Factory believes the most successful solution is a housing of a cylindrical shape:
In the video below you can see the best projects of finalists.
Zopherus has suggested using a movable downgrade printer:
Kahn-Yates introduced a housing module with translucent inserts that would miss the sunlight:
There are no place for space colonies
Is humankind ready for life in a space colony? The experience of living aboard the International Space Station gives an idea of some of the serious challenges that will have to be addressed. Recent studies of the effects of radiation suggest poor prospects for astronauts, not to mention the difficulty of delivering the required amount of water and food for the six ISS inhabitants, which cost about $2 billion a year. Ideally, a space colony should be self-sufficient and capable of autonomously producing all that is necessary or, possibly, harvesting supplies on nearby asteroids.
Two of the most “long live” space colony concepts appeared in the 1920s.
The Austro-Hungarian rocket science pioneer Herman Potocnik imagined that people could live on a space station, similar to a flying saucer. It had to rotate to create artificial gravity, with energy extracted with the help of a giant mirror focusing the sun’s rays. At first glance, this is not the most practical solution, but this idea survived the test of time: in the 1970s it was promoted by Gerard O’Neill, a physicist from Princeton University in the USA, and then by the British Interplanetary Society.
Under the NASA leadership, Stanford University created Stanford torus in 1975 – the space settlement project (Stanford torus refers to its main concept first proposed by Wernher von Braun and Herman Potocnik). It consists of a torus, or doughnut-shaped ring, 1.8 km in diameter and rotating once per minute to provide between 0.9g and 1.0g of artificial gravity on the inside of the outer ring via centrifugal force. With these parameters, torus habitat is capable of housing over 10,000 permanent citizens.
Today there are several new projects of space settlements – Nautilus-X, Bigelow Next-Generation and some others, but all of them are advanced versions of the International Space Station
The internal space of the torus is residential, it is large enough to create an artificial ecosystem comparable to the natural environment on Earth. Purportedly, the population lives here in conditions similar to a densely populated suburb, and inside the ring there are branches for farming and a residential section.
Today there are several new projects of space settlements – Nautilus-X, Bigelow Next-Generation and some others, but all of them are advanced versions of the International Space Station, intended mostly for research – without artificial gravity and for short-term residence. Because the entire cost of the Stanford torus project was estimated at $300 billion, the realisation of it seems unrealistic.
Functionality comes first
Modern concepts in architecture and construction of space buildings are aimed at energy efficiency, not just in materials but also about aesthetic structural elements. These multipurpose functional elements can employ additional operations, such as redistributing the load and energy accumulation.
Often, ideas about extraterrestrial “apartments” suffer from stereotypes, and even prominent architects suggest settling in burrows. But humans on other planets must live in conditions as close as possible to our home. Each object in space settlement should have as many useful functions as possible – otherwise, the mission of the colonists will not be financially feasible.
Often, ideas about extraterrestrial “apartments” suffer from stereotypes, and even prominent architects suggest settling in burrows.
Designers have determined the direction for a number of projects: beds that can be assembled, tucked into the wall and, if necessary, used only partially as baby cots; or “virtual” windows, which would not only provide additional space but also become projectors that show videos with useful information or simply views of the native Earth. This is aimed at ensuring the crew’s psychological and physical health and stave off depression, which is a concern for people in isolation.
In terms of composite components, earthly furniture is also very different from the prototypes intended for space travel. Plastics and synthetics, often used on Earth, can release toxic fumes, especially dangerous in an oxygen-poor environment. Experts claim natural materials such as wood, wool and leather are much better suited for the colonizer’s interior decoration.
Philip Seussman, one of the IKEA designers, notes that people tend to experience a much stronger emotional feeling to the things that they have made with their own hands. For example, the Round Table in the castle of King Arthur is not just a symbolic piece of furniture, but also a very successful item in terms of psychological comfort. As in the case of the table, furniture for the colonists should be designed in a way to give each member of the expedition equal and comfortable conditions.
In the near future, we anticipate space settlements visually far from those shown in science fiction films. A commercial module may appear on the International Space Station, maybe a few commercial space stations will be built. It may be inflatable, and it would be used for scientific research and space tourism. There is no discussion of artificial gravity, it will just be another module (like Bigelow inflatable module) that differs from the existing ones only in function.
Why should we build space stations? We have so many problems here on Earth.
The answer to it question is very simple: reaching for new heights often creates new solutions, new opportunity and elevated hope back on the ground.
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