There are now almost as many Martian habitat concepts floating around as there are asteroids in the Kuiper belt, but Foster + Partners might have the most ambitiously sci-fi vision out there.
Think of inflatable pods that launch ahead of the mission and link together after touching down on the moon or Mars. Now imagine that once these pods have landed, robotic 3D printers will make space cement out of lunar or Martian regolith and use it to encase the pods in a protective shield.
Did the project purposely merge form and function to look like something out of a movie that is decades before its time? You might be tempted to think the design of the habitats emerged from the fantasy of exploring and potentially colonizing Mars that will still exist in fiction until human boots ultimately step in the reddish dust. In this case, it was the function of the habitats that ended up making them look so futuristic.
“Throughout the project we were looking at functionality rather than aesthetics as the primary driver of the design,” the Foster + Partners team exclusively told SYFY WIRE. “In such an extreme environment, functionality needs to encompass factors contributing to human wellbeing such as privacy, safety, lighting, materials, acoustics, air quality. When considering the habitat as a long-term home during an extended mission, rather than a laboratory, all of these elements contributed to the aesthetics, or experience, of the space.”
Tech for 3D printing on this scale hasn’t really taken off on Earth yet, but in space there is a need for compact habitats that also have the complexity to keep humans alive. It’s that type of simple complexity—or complex simplicity—that stood out to NASA as viable when the space agency was selecting finalists for the 3D-printed Habitat Challenge. There’s a reason that the team’s design won the second phase.
“We went back to basics to look at the sequence of delivering the construction tools to the surface of Mars, questioning the logic of single highly complex units,” the designers told SYFY WIRE. “Instead, we proposed a highly redundant, distributed system of simpler specialized robots that works together to construct the required infrastructure prior to human arrival. In conjunction with multiple modules, there is a degree of slack in the proposal to incorporate or deal with unforeseen mission variables.”
Prepare for your mind to be blown.
Mars may be riddled with craters, but semi-autonomous robots will have to dig an artificial crater to get the colony started.
Inflatable habitat pods land with the help of a parachute and airbags.
NASA previously used this soft-landing system with its 1997 Pathfinder mission. Self-inflating modules connect by airlock in the crater (this will actually be tested on the ISS next year).
Now to the really awesome part. Using a method called Regolith Additive Construction, robots fuse the Martian regolith into space concrete that will serve as a protective shield for the pods.
The pods look even more futuristic on the inside.
How will Foster + Partners take this concept to the next level? Tech is everything.
“Whilst the design is constantly evolving to incorporate new knowledge and feedback, our focus at the moment is to continue developing the technology behind the additive manufacturing,” the team said. “This means developing a greater understanding of the material science, the additive manufacture process, the robotic delivery system, and the kind of structures this technology affords.”
(via Foster + Partners)