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Type: Extra-planetary Habitat
Location: Northern Slopes, Alba Mons, Mars
From Jovian Europa to Saturnian Enceladus, from the Kuiper belt to the asteroid belt the solar system is awash with water.* On Mars, more than five million cubic kilometers of water ice have been identified - enough to cover the planet to a depth of thirty five meters. Mars Ice House taps into this vast supply of water ice to propose an autonomously 3D printed habitat for four explorers. On September 27th, 2015, the project was awarded first place in NASA's Centennial Challenge 3D Printed Habitat Competition.
SEArch/ CloudsAO is a unique collaboration in between Space Exploration Architecture and Clouds Architecture Office based in New York, NY, USA, Earth.
Located in the shallow slopes of Alba Mons in Mars' northern hemisphere, where the ice table is protected by only 20cm of loose regolith, Mars Ice House draws on the anticipated abundance of pure water within the region. Rather than employing traditional methods of printed deposition, Mars Ice House relies on the physics of phase transition for construction. The extracted subsurface water is sublimated and ultimately delivered as vapor to a print head, which liquefies and then re-solidifies the water in sequential layers.
Architectural Concept & Design Approach
Recent discoveries of water and water ice in our solar system give great promise to uncovering the presence of life forms as we understand them. Since water is the baseline resource for future outposts on a number of extra-terrestrial bodies, NASA has adopted a "follow the water" approach towards exploration.* Given the predicted abundance of water in certain areas on Mars, the Mars Ice House approach takes full advantage of its properties as an indigenous material to act as both life-blood and, when 3-D printed, as the primary construction material.
The design emerged from an imperative to bring light to the interior and to create visual connections to the landscape beyond, allowing the mind as well as the body to thrive. The Martian day, at twenty-four hours and forty minutes, affords humans the opportunity to live under natural circadian rhythms, experiencing the sun's actual and unmediated daily cycles. The water ice counteracts the traditional danger of living above-ground by serving as a high-performance solar and cosmic radiation barrier,* offsetting fears of radiation exposure that have, until now, cast Martian architectures into an underworld buried beneath a regolithic surface that contains perchlorates, gypsum and other substances hazardous to human life.
The semi-translucent exterior shell reintroduces the terrestrial concept of interior-to-exterior gradients, challenging common assumptions that extraterrestrial habitats require visually impenetrable barriers which divorce the interior from the surrounding terrain. The heart of the structure, the living quarters, is strictly interior, benefiting from the protection of redundant pressure envelopes. As one moves outward towards the radiation-barrier ice perimeter, there is a transition towards integrated plant life and vistas onto the Martian landscape, integrating the outdoors with the spatial environment.
Structurally, the overall form of the ice shell is a patchwork of rigid conic surfaces, rendered steep in low-gravity, low-pressure Mars. Formal eccentricity affords inhabitants orientation -- a key daily reference for inhabitants in an otherwise "endless" cycloramic and luminous interior. By enveloping this frozen layer in a hermetic membrane, the structure not only protects humans from Mars, but likewise Mars from terrestrial contamination.
Architectural Implementation & Innovation
The ice shell is envisioned as a series of nested spaces enclosed by a transparent membrane reinforced along stress lines with Dyneema strands. This membrane establishes a pressure boundary that prevents the ice structure from sublimating and seals the living system off from the hostile exterior world. Thermally separated from the habitat interior, the occupiable "front yard" just inside the outer shell provides a truly unique protected neutral zone that is not entirely interior or exterior; it enables the areonauts to experience the "outside" without ever donning an EVA suit. This interstitial zone space demonstrates a new, liberating and revolutionary definition of living extra-terrestrially.
A secondary, semi-independent shell of ice encloses the landing vehicle, providing more radiation shielding and structural redundancy and creating a multitude of spaces divided into distinct thermal and air make-up zones. This secondary layer of ice, lined with insulation, can be thickened and thinned to control translucency, creating a controlled habitat and layout interior experience still capable of being customized through adaptable printing to any number of functional constructions and program configurations.
Positive experimentation with ice printing informed our deployment and construction strategy.
Deployment is initiated by a landing vehicle, sized for the currently available payload of a SpaceX Falcon Heavy and NASA's Space Launch System (SLS), both of which are undergoing testing and development. The first phase of printing is exterior in focus, mining the surrounding landscape for water and creating a foundation in which to ground the lander. A group of "WaSiBo" bots, engineered for collecting water and sintering a regolith foundation deploy from the lander's base. Once released, they remain exterior, thereby avoiding potential contamination with the interior. WaSiBo uses it's functionalities of excavation, laser cutting and heating/pressurizing to collect and process regolith for both foundation making and water separation. All collected ice is melted and deposited within a reservoir for use in future printing as well as life support. This process takes full advantage of the frigid, low-pressure environment by relying on the physics of sublimation rather than energetically expensive lithic mining and processing.
Following deployment of the membrane, a group of "iBo" bots are released from the lander into the pressurized habitat to commence the second phase of printing. These bots use a triple nozzle to dispense a composite of water, fiber and aerogel along an ascending spiral coil. The low-volume, close-range nozzle ensures that any water that freezes mid trajectory melts and refreeze instantaneously via the energy of its impact (a contact weld). A fibrous clear silica additive provides the ice shell with greater tensile strength, calculated to bolster the strength of ice to the order of 3 times. A translucent hydrophobic aerogel layer is printed between the inner ice shell and the inhabited programmatic spaces to ensure thermal comfort. A porous substance, 99.8 percent empty space by volume, this lightweight material brought on the lander from Earth, serves an effective air gap to create the necessary thermal break. The insulating layer enables the inner volume to achieve habitable temperatures without warming the ice structure beyond.
Habitability & Interior Program
The vertically oriented lander, which contains the mechanical services of the habitat, inherits the likely orientation of the crew's (MTV) Transit Habitat to ease the crew's adjustment to life on the Martian surface. The habitat's stacked levels organize core programs by activity within the lander, introducing a spectrum of private to communal interior spaces. Interior efficiency creates sizable storage pockets at the base of the lander to house both the printing robots as well as the four Environmental Control and Life Support Systems (ECLSS). Once pressurized, integrated platforms unfold from the lander, creating 'pockets' for inserted program. A spiral stair at the core of the lander provides circulation to the upper levels of the habitat, while simultaneously offering the crew a means for physical activity when ascending levels.
The vertically growing hydroponic gardens serve as the recreational 'park' within the habitat, disrupting the novel yet monotonous Martian vista while also supplementing the crew's food and oxygen. The gardens enable the growth of experimental consumable produce, and their placement between programmatic zones offers the crew contact with natural plant life and colors throughout their daily scheduled activities. The resulting variegated "dappled" light benefits the crew's psychological and mental well-being and the 'yard' provides space in which to vent any excess oxygen produced.
The first level of the habitat consists of a laboratory space, a medical and exercise facility, as well as a small northern-oriented contemplation / meditation room that boasts a window to the exterior. The second level of the habitat is devoted to southern northwest-oriented sleeping quarters, as well as the first (of two) hygiene units. Despite the crew members having individual sleeping compartments with visual and acoustical privacy, the layout of the units themselves counters potential crew isolation by spatially encouraging socialization between crew members. The uppermost level offers an open domed loft wardroom with a communal table located at its center. A counter height galley contains pantry, sink and food preparation station, in addition to the secondary hygiene unit, affording the areonauts a light filled panoramic space.
Jared W. G. Atkinson; Planetary Geophysics, MIT
Maria Banks PhD; Geology and Planetary Scientist, Planetary Sciences Institute
Kim Binstead PhD; Associate Professor, ICS Department, University of Hawaii
Eric Barnett PhD; Research Associate, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Laval University
Casey J. Handmer PhD; Applied Mathematics, California Institute of Technology
Stefan Harsan Farr; Engineer and Software Architect
Jeffrey H. Hoffman PhD; Professor of Practice of Aerospace Engineer, MIT Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics
Norbert Koemle PhD; Geophysics, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Space Research Institute
L.E.R.A. Consulting Engineers
Petr Novikov; Co-Founder of Asmbld Construction Robotics
Yaz Khoury, Electrical Engineer at Asmbld Construction Robotics
Javier Roa; Orbital Mechanics/Aerospace Engineering, Technical University of Madrid and JPL Research Associate
Pavlo Rudakevych; Roboticist and Aerospace Engineer, Aviator
Markus Scheucher; Physics and Space Sciences, Karl Franzens University of Graz
Pieter Sijpkes, Associate Professor (ret.), School of Architecture, McGill University
Special Thanks to:
Dr. Ron Turner, ANSER Distinguished Analyst
Lawrence W. Townsend PhD, Chancellor's Professor of Nuclear Engineering, University of Tennessee
With an incredible depth of research and engagement with specialists, this project makes sustained existence on Mars seem plausible.
It was so well thought out and visualized, and it effectively evoked the complex emotions in a classic spirit of speculation.