In 2015 my colleagues and I founded SEArch+ (Space Exploration Architecture), with a mission to conceive, investigate, and develop innovative “human-centered” designs enabling human beings not only to live, but to thrive in space environments beyond Earth. We are a collective of designers, architects, technologists, and researchers that integrate design thinking with traditional engineering workflows to establish the importance of designing for the human experience and holistic health in long-duration space missions. Our work consists of concepts for human habitats on planetary surfaces, in-transit vehicles, as well as the technologies that enable their deployment. Within these environments we consider not only the appropriate concepts for long-term habitation, research, and working modules in space, but also the human interfaces with hardware and technology that keep the astronauts alive and thriving.
Members of SEArch+ are professors at Pratt Institute’s School of Architecture and Design and are the recipients of NASA Exploration (X-HAB) Innovation Grants in 2015 and 2016 for Mars Transit and Surface Habitats. Working with leading aerospace subject-matter experts and engineers, SEArch+ partnered with architectural design firm Clouds AO in 2015 to win first place in NASA’s Phase I Design Competition for a 3D-Printed Habitat for the proposal, Mars Ice House, which was announced at World Maker Faire New York that year.
To date, we have worked on two proposals for Martian ice habitats with NASA. The first is a surface-based design called Mars Ice House.
Given the predicted abundance of water in certain areas on Mars, our approach takes advantage of the properties of H20 as the primary fabrication material. In contrast to Martian habitats that bury astronauts underground in regolith (Martian soil), Ice House introduces water-ice as a superior radiation shield for a long-duration mission, while the translucency of the habitat shell enables the astronaut-crew to establish a connection with the landscape beyond. It prioritizes a life above ground and celebrates the human presence on the planetary surface.
To construct the habitat, a precision-manufactured ETFE membrane deploys and inflates from a vertically oriented lander storing all mission-specific robotics, materials, and resources. Ice House has been programmed to feature crew quarters for four astronauts, hygiene areas, exercise and medical support, vertical hydroponic gardens, and a wardroom.
In 2016 SEArch+ consulted with NASA Langley Research Center in the design, feasibility study, and risk reduction efforts of our second proposal, Mars Ice Home, a related concept for a deployable Mars habitat filled and frozen with indigenous water-ice. Ice Home uses an inflatable membrane filled with water-ice for structural support and radiation protection for a crew. Materials forming the wall assembly of Ice Home have been selected for MISSE-11 (Materials International Space Station Experiment) testing aboard the International Space Station this coming year. Samples will be mounted to the outside of the ISS to investigate the effects of long-term exposure and will then be returned to Earth for analysis.
Our team is currently partnering with 3D printing provider Apis Cor for Phase III of NASA’s 3D-Printed Habitat Competition, winning first place in Construction Levels 1 and 2, and first place in 100% Virtual Design. Mars X-House, our current proposal for the competition, introduces the design and construction sequencing for an autonomously built 3D-printed habitat using indigenous ISRU (in-situ resource utilization) materials to support a crew of four for one Earth-year on a pioneering mission to Mars.
Rather than burying habitats underground or entombing them in regolith, the design of Mars X-House seeks to exceed current radiation standards while safely connecting the crew to natural light and views to the Martian landscape. By vitally connecting the human residents with views to the landscape beyond, the habitat synthesizes key design factors fundamental to future Martian habitation: program and construction efficiency, light, and radiation protection — creating a highly functional and protective habitat for its occupants.
X-House will be 3D-printed at ⅓ scale in the competition’s final on-site challenge at the Caterpillar Edwards Research & Demonstration Center. Research in off-world 3D printing is still in its infancy, and it remains indefinite whether the material porosity of 3D-printed regolith may indeed sustain air-tight pressurized enclosures essential for breathable environments supporting human life. The competition’s design and construction prototyping levels seek to advance present research in whether a regolith based 3D-printed habitat may indeed enclose a pressure vessel within an off-world environment. The competition’s final head-to-head event, planned for May 4, 2019 at Caterpillar’s facilities in Peoria, Illinois, asks teams to print the habitat design at scale and conduct an impact test, smoke test, and crush test. The event will be broadcast on NASA TV and visitors are welcome to Caterpillar on the day of the event.