Studio Samira Boon textile origami

These origami-inspired moon and Mars habitats are just awesome

Contributed by
Sep 24, 2018, 11:56 AM EDT (Updated)

This is not the origami you used to make in art class, but it is an art form that goes not only beyond paper cranes, but beyond Earth.

Lunar and Martian habitat concepts have ranged from ice domes to beehives to turning billion-year-old lava tubes into livable spaces — but this might be one of the most ingenious concepts ever.

The MoonMars project is going to take origami to the next level. This collab between the International Lunar Exploration Working Group (ILEWG), ESA-ESTEC, and futuristic textile architect Samira Boon is figuring out how to use origami structures to create space habitats that exemplify form and function.

"Origami structures made of textiles can be unfolded into a myriad of different shapes,” MoonMars project lead Anna Sitnikova said recently at the European Planetary Science Congress. “They are lightweight. They can be easily deployed and re-used in different configurations and sizes for flexible spatial usage. Structures remain functional in changing circumstances, thereby extending their useable life-span." 

MoonMars will sculpt origami structures using digital weaving processes, creating structures that are as compact as they are complex. The high-performance textiles are made to survive in space, where they will be bombarded with cosmic radiation and other hostile forces, while inflatable, robotic, and pop-up mechanisms will make these habitats easy to deploy.

Origami is ideal for extraterrestrial habitats because of the flexibility it provides. The myriad angled facets in this type of architecture are a better defense against space debris, since incoming micrometeorites will not have as high a chance of crashing into the surface at 90 degrees. That might not sound like such a big deal until you realize that hitting the fabric at other random angles dissipates the energy of the impact, meaning less risk of punching a hole in the habitat.

"Origami for space architecture promotes cross-disciplinary approaches and applications, providing state-of-the-art production and design methods," Sitnikova explained. "Habitats enhanced by such structures are temporal and alive as they are able to transform and redefine themselves in resonance with human and environmental factors."

The fabric itself is not the only advantage for astronauts staying in an origami hangout. However sci-fi this sounds, the textiles are shapeshifters with opaque and transparent facets that can change the lighting and temperature inside just by changing direction. The facets have embedded solar panels that follow the sun throughout the day for maximum energy absorption.

This is where Studio Samira Boon, which specializes in producing large-scale fabric origami structures, and Freeform Origami Software by Tomohiro Tachi, which allows the user to digitally sculpt origami forms, come in. Samira Boon has been able to weave an entire self-supported origami dome from just one sheet of fabric. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any cooler, they aren’t stopping there. The team’s next goal is an origami habitat that deploys itself.

Let’s just say that anything MoonMars does is going to make buildings like Epcot look like relics of the past.


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