Jan 4, 2017 | By Benedict
A group of designers, architects, and NASA experts has unveiled the Mars Ice Dome, a concept for an ice-based habitat that could be used on Mars. The concept is an evolution of the Mars Ice House, winner of NASA’s 2015 3D Printed Habitat Challenge.
Because the surface of Mars has extreme temperatures, and because the Red Planet’s atmosphere does not provide adequate protection from high-energy radiation, the first human settlers on the planet will need robust and effective shelters that will protect them from the wild conditions. However, building such a shelter poses problems: since astronauts can only take a finite amount of resources on the eventual journey from Earth, the construction cannot be made of any old material. Instead, our Mars colonizers will need to make some use of whatever they can find on the planet—including water.
It is testimony to the forward-thinking nature of NASA that its newest Mars habitat concept is actually a development of an idea put forward by a competition winner in 2015. Clouds Architecture Office, the company behind the idea, won $25,000 for designing a 3D printable Ice House for the 3D Printed Habitat Challenge. That concept involved 3D printing ice, which can be found on Mars, and keeping it contained within a transparent ETFE membrane. NASA was so impressed with the idea that it not only awarded Clouds AO with the grand prize, but has also begun to develop the idea further—in the form of the Mars Ice Dome.
A group of NASA experts, in collaboration with Clouds AO and a number of designers and architects, recently started work at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, where they have been developing the Mars Ice Dome into a feasible concept for Mars habitation. “After a day dedicated to identifying needs, goals and constraints we rapidly assessed many crazy, out of the box ideas and finally converged on the current Ice Home design, which provides a sound engineering solution,” said Langley senior systems engineer Kevin Vipavetz, facilitator for the design session.
While the donut-shaped Ice Dome could take over a year to be filled with water, it could—according to NASA—be constructed and filled before the crew even arrive, since robots could be sent to Mars in advance. Once the astronauts do arrive, the Ice Dome could then present may benefits. For starters, hydrogen-rich water can shield galactic cosmic rays, which are one of the biggest threats to humans on Mars, since they could cause cancer or acute radiation sickness. Additionally, the water stored inside the 3D printed habitat could potentially be converted to rocket fuel for the Mars Ascent Vehicle.
One of the biggest advantages of the water-based 3D printed habitat is that astronauts will be protected from cosmic rays, but will still receive plenty of light through the translucent walls. “All of the materials we’ve selected are translucent, so some outside daylight can pass through and make it feel like you’re in a home and not a cave,” said Langley Mars Ice Home principal investigator Kevin Kempton.
But while daylight will be an advantage to those living in the habitat, there were other critical considerations that went into choosing certain materials for the structure. “The materials that make up the Ice Home will have to withstand many years of use in the harsh Martian environment, including ultraviolet radiation, charged-particle radiation, possibly some atomic oxygen, perchlorates, as well as dust storms—although not as fierce as in the movie The Martian,” said Langley researcher Sheila Ann Thibeault.
The researchers on the Ice Dome project are currently seeking ways in which water could be faster extracted from Mars. At present, they think that it would be possible to fill the habitat at a rate of one cubic meter per day, allowing the habitat to be completed in 400 days. If, however, they can find a way to increase this rate, the project could be scaled up in size.
Ultimately, the NASA experts, architects, and designers behind the Ice Dome simply want the habitat to be as useful and comfortable as possible for whoever has the privilege of being sent there. “After months of travel in space, when you first arrive at Mars and your new home is ready for you to move in, it will be a great day,” Kempton said.
Posted in 3D Printing Application
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