As Chandrayaan-3, one of the greatest achievements of India, created glory in the world, I wish to tell you that the specialty of the space mission was that the rover landed on the south pole of the moon, a place unexplored yet has a presence of water, which also gives us the hope for future discoveries in space for the ordinary people. In the wake of India’s move towards space flight, my foremost hope is that I may be able to observe planetary motions with my own eyes one day. This, in turn, raises the question of whether we might be able to have a habitat someday in space. If that is possible, there must be a thought to design and build an environment for people to travel easily and stay for a few days. To know more about it, let us move on to the enduring journey of Space architecture.
Describing Space Architecture in Small Volumes.
What is Space Architecture Design?
Space architecture design is about the various theories and designs to develop inhabited environments in outer space. It includes designing elements of living, working, and modes of transportation. The attempt is to go beyond the specified systems and things we know of and understand the scientific concepts and issues. These problems are associated with the conditions we are not conscious of in our habitat, like lack of oxygen, weather pattern, exposure to sunlight, or the materials that should have the required properties to sustain and perform better. The prerequisite part is that it not just require an all-inclusive engineering approach, but a multitude of disciplines like human biology, psychology, physics, logistics, etc.
Origin of Space Architecture.
It goes back to a period when we were trying to extend our capabilities in space missions that included a lot more than basic survival needs. While enhancing the quality and duration of space exploration, astronauts became the primary reason for the kick start of something great, which has many profound implications for the future.
“Our future lies with today’s kids and tomorrow’s space exploration,”– Author Sally Ride
But first things first, what exactly are we aiming for when we say Space architecture, and how do we achieve it?
Essentially, it means the restricted space, void of atmospheric conditions, can be occupied by a secure and habitable sphere of architecture. It is what we have learned about; it is SCIENCE. An architectural solution to design the unlivable environment into a livable environment for humans. To achieve this goal, we EXPLORE.
The quest for space exploration started with the motive to learn more about ourselves and our planet to improve life here. It resulted in multiple innovations in several fields, including metals, biology, space mining, and even growing food in orbit. Speaking of food, it is the biggest challenge for an astronaut due to the need for pre-processed foods and the limit of only 3.8 pounds per day. The good thing is that condiments are among the amenities, including ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise. While determining the right Space architecture, we have to look forward on livelihood too.
Now imagine yourself living in outer space, and you have to eat that kind of food for the rest of your life. It isn’t simply possible.
All of these explain the urgency for rapid exploration in Space architecture design. It also helps our environment by generating knowledge that will eventually be used to mitigate the effects of global climate change. On the other hand, medical research helps us understand the human body in new ways, helping save and improve the quality of uncountable lives. Hence, learning Space architecture not only helps us explore space but also brings a viable change to our livelihoods on Mother Earth.
Walter Cugno, Vice President of Exploration and Science Domain at Thales Alenia Space, says,
“Understanding the environment on other planets where humans may one day live, and studying our biological systems and how materials behave when not influenced by gravity, are crucially important endeavors for our future — and space exploration is helping us to find answers to our questions.”
Now, coming to the functions of the Space architecture, let me tell you that it has a powerful connection with the design elements that you may find in tiny/mini houses, small living apartments/houses, vehicle design, or like the shipping containers design aesthetics. These houses have a characteristic of minimalism with the fulfillment of needs and sustainable techniques.
Currently, developments are limited to orbital space stations, although ongoing research is to make them planetary. To reach this goal more quickly, several conceptual designs are under development, such as the Moon Village by SOM, Lunar Oasis by Edward Chew, and Marsha by AI Space Factory. These constitute the minuscule aspects of architecture for survival and habitation.
Today, I pledge to provide multiple solutions of design aesthetics that deal with minimalism, sustainability, or any challenging design while making society aware with tons of knowledge on the latest forums. Read on to learn more.
Significance of Space Exploration in Architecture Development.
While the beginning of human space flight lays the foundation for more exploration, Space architecture becomes the ultimate element in envisioning the role of designs for space stations and habitable planetary bases. This sector is emerging, and NASA and other agencies are supporting its growth with programs that involve assessing the level of thinking in architecture that is crucial for sprouting the community of architects and engineers across the space field. A few things to keep in mind are:
- In this period of the new space age, the need is more than building physical solutions. The habitation must focus on the materials, safety & effectiveness of missions.
- The focus is to explore our solar system to acknowledge the challenges of global warming, population growth, and the over-exploitation of resources.
- The harsh environmental conditions of space, like low atmospheric pressure, low apparent gravity, substantial temperature variations, and high radiation, are some of the challenges. When resolved, it will support a good quality of life.
- The study starts with one important aspect of psychological health causing stress, sleep schedules clashing, and depression, and moves into broader aspects of established infrastructures like power and water supply, sewage, and waste recycling.
- Learning how to design structures for harsh and unforgiving environments of the space enhances the possibilities of its architecture.
- At last, it too affects the economic diaphragm, primarily consisting of its costs.
Approach to Building Sustainable Space Architecture.
It is a predominant fact while developing a strategy to start something marvelous; one needs to prepare & understand the approach towards its primary functioning. The subject of architecture theory has many applications in Space architecture, beginning from the design elements to the space planning and going up to your safety & period of living. In simple words, it is the ideology of building & with its increasing development, the values of architectural design will be as it is for the earth. In space, the fundamentals of designing rely upon the physical & psychological wellness of the body. So, the design parameters need to take care of muscle atrophy for the minimal effect of space on the body. Meanwhile, in developing the significant approach, sustainability is the must come factor in those design aesthetics for their self-reliance & longevity. Here, we have discussed some of the fundamental approaches.
When you enter your house, do you find it suffocating? The cross ventilation or enough sunlight is due to the proper planning to inhibit all the necessities in the acquired space. It is an in-depth analysis of how structures utilize physical space. The best way to learn a brief is to understand it through Size, Shape, and orientation.
It is crucial to consider certain aspects of the parametric approach to extend human presence into the solar system and meet long-term human habitation needs. These are the underlying parameters of habitat design based on physics, geometry, and biomechanics to understand the limitations of architecture building. All the physical developments, either in space stations or later in habitats, primarily depend on the occupant size and the structural orientation.
How big a habitat must be is an issue with complicating factors such as the crew size, mission duration, environment (meteorites, gamma radiation), and location (planetary base or orbital architecture). It can be simplified by making space habitats as small as possible from the perspective of:
- Development cost,
- Mass and Volume, and
- Mission flexibility.
While as large as possible from the perspective of:
- Human factors,
- Habitability, and
- Psychosocial issues of mission design.
In the current scenario, many heuristic ways have developed for calculating the requirement for size adaptation in space, but recently some techniques have taken the upper hand by precise measurement. It is one of the aspects that differentiates it from interior design.
The second practice in designing is the shape of architecture. Its function is to restrain the atmospheric gasses and pressure to keep the occupants alive. The most mass-efficient shape is the sphere, followed by a cylindrical shell with an ellipsoidal or hemispherical ancaps. These are depicted below in the case study of Marsha by AlFactory. Considering the martian conditions, the most suitable shape displayed by various space agencies is the ellipsoid, followed by the vertical orientation on its surface. These orientations could be inclined or horizontal depending on the planetary and sustainable living factors.
Choice of Materials in Space Architecture Design.
One of the serious issues is the material used in space architecture. Have you ever thought about what would happen if we utilize all our resources in obtaining different functions? It would not survive a bit until & unless tested. Almost half the efforts of building Space architecture go into finding & developing suitable materials for the specified condition. It requires the intersection of skills and knowledge for designing an aesthetic and functional habitat. For now, these material findings are on Mars or the Moon, our two close calls for future habitats. Some of the most commonly used materials in space till now are Aluminum (specific grade), Martian dust(regolith), lunar Crete, and Mars ice & Bamboo. It is an amusing fact about wood & specifically bamboo, that it is one of the most precious elements in the entire solar system, as far as we know. But, considering the habitat on the Moon or Mars, we are relieved to access their native materials.
- The Moon is full of readily accessible minerals and compounds; used to produce metals, bricks, glass, and paints. The place is puzzled by lava tubes. With great volumes under the surface, it could be made habitable, protecting from radiation and solar storms. It also has the direct sampling of water, ice, and the existence of geyser-like water flows on the surface.
- Mars has rich soil within-site resources, including Martian soil, basalt, and Martian concrete. Among them, the most abundant is the martian soil or regolith for construction purposes and plant growth under specific environments due to its composition. Through constant research & an approach to longevity, it is found that mixing certain fertilizers can help the soil retain water for long & organic content for food growth making life sustainable there.
The consistency & availability of these materials on the planet dictates the type of habitat & its presence over there. The quality to grow food, again & again, provides safety & also can be used in construction processes. Moving forward with other elements of space architecture design, you think on which element is present on earth and if used in space can bring a change.
NASA associated with other space agencies has lately proposed new Space architecture construction systems that can transform the entire concept of construction & develop the structures in outer space. The way of construction & installation methodologies depicts their strength, stability & sustainability. To achieve this, a strong relationship between the materials accessible in space and the compact machinery is necessary. One such forthcoming technology is 3D printing. The corresponding installation methods are Full Scaffolding & Stockholm globe arena.
- One of the crucial ways of presenting 3D printing in space is by supporting the spaceflight mission. To date, NASA’s additive manufacturing efforts for the ISS have focused mostly on the 3D printing of polymers or plastics. Now, several ongoing projects are aiming to test and develop prototypes for a possible future full-scale additive construction system that could print infrastructure on the moon. It would be possible to 3D print with lunar regolith & soil, thus creating demands for habitat on the moon and other planets. Similarly, 3D printing is the chosen tool in the efforts to build structures on Mars. There are concepts of underground 3D printed habitats & another that uses basalt from mars’ surface & blends with bioplastic to generate marble-like structures. Many other applications are thrusters, rocket engines, food production & space suits.
- The installation techniques are not entirely new but developed with some fusion to level up them. Full scaffolding is one such technique used when exact alignment is required (dome-like structure), and stability is obtained by assembling all members & edge members while fixing the boundary supports. You may have seen such structures as the Eden project or Berlin Main station spatial framework. Other methods are similar in manner to organization & formation of structural components.
Safety of Habitat.
While developing space colonies or permanent settlements on celestial objects other than Earth, safety encounters as another concern to Space architecture. One of the biggest threats to the occupant’s safety in space is sudden radiation events from solar flares. The phenomena in outer space are entirely anonymous & strikingly heavy. They are not predictable, but thorough R&D can help in searching out the particulars for the chosen environment. Hurricanes- tornadoes, cloud rain lighting & freezing waves are the most common activities on the planet. Many concepts are built to date and depict various ways to tackle & protect the architecture.
- Talking of the moon there can be fatal consequences if someone is exposed to the radiation on the lunar surface. The best-known protection against radiation in space is shielding; an especially effective shield is water contained in large tanks surrounding the habitat’s structure. This method is more skeptical because of water availability & behavior in space. A more practical approach would be to construct solar storm shelters that function as a concentrated area to retreat during peak events.
- Another shielding method is the lunar soil, or regolith, used as the construction layer over the shelters, taking advantage of their environment’s natural shielding materials. The more mass between the occupant and radiation, the more likely dangerous particles will deposit their energy before reaching the crew.
These are some examples of creating and protecting the environment from harsh space conditions like cloud rain, lightning strikes, freezing waves, or temperature fluctuations. These techniques are the necessities involved with the construction & orientation approach in Space architecture design.
Duration of Time (Short Span or Permanent Settlement).
So far, we have come across various factors affecting human life and certain approaches to outlast them. But, do you know which systems would be necessary to sustain human life in the harsh environment of space? Hence, it is necessary to consider this issue while considering the space architecture design.
The basic ones are food, air, and water. They constitute the primary concerns, while the secondary ones are safety and, of course, sustainability. It is necessary to not go empty of our planet’s reserves to settle life in space. Apart from these, physical exercise regimens, expanding room for movement, sanitation facilities, and recreational activities are also crucial for long-term settlement. For a better outcome, it is vital to reduce all the dependencies through research, concept studies, prototyping, and validation.
There is no limit for excessive safety measures while developing permanent settlements, as those need to be acquired and accessed based only on the habitat. There are, however, some habitation systems that can be best utilized as follows:
- Environmental Monitoring: Constant checking of atmosphere, water levels, microbial, and acoustic monitoring inside.
- Life Support System: It consists of balanced air revitalization with water recovery and management, waste collection, and pre-processing, followed by recyclability.
- Occupant Health: As we have discussed, an exercise regime requires precise equipment, and the same for the medical treatment with diagnostic measures dictates the proper health checkup, and a medium for an alert.
- Radiation Protection: For better safety, low atomic number materials that include polyethylene, water, or any hydrogen-containing materials with exact module structures are considered optimum.
Considering the extreme environment of space, redundant fail-safe checking is a must before utilizing these resources in deep space for in-future permanent settlement.
Case Studies of Two Futuristic & Sustainable Colonies.
1. Lunar Habitation by Foster and Partners.
The Fosters & Partners, a part of the European Space Agency, had come up with the concept of constructing lunar habitations on the moon’s south pole. From model making to building making, the goal of the development is to explore the potential of 3D printing. The plans call for the use of a massive printer created by Monolite UK, named D-Shape. This approach is entirely the new sparkle in the game of Space architecture, if successful. To have a holistic view of this habitation-
- This Space architecture starts with the capacity of four occupants on the moon’s south pole.
- Starting from the basic structure, it is an inflatable dome designed to offer protection from space phenomena like meteorites, gamma radiation, and high-temperature fluctuations.
- To provide structural strength to the Dome during construction, and extending cylindrical opening acts as a beam.
- The outer dome structure protects against solar winds and micro-meteorites and will contain a pressurized living zone with dual protection units.
- The lunar soil (regolith) is used in stacked layers as a protective shell to enhance the strength of this segment. And that makes it more like a structure, imbibed with the surface within which the habitat is secure.
- In this specified procedure, the material used is minimal, with a hollow closed cellular structure similar to foam made with the robot-operated 3-D printer.
The most significant marvel that changes the way of construction is displayed & proved by this project. The enhanced capabilities of easy robotic usage & creating marble-like material that is more structurally sound than Portland Cement, requiring no steel reinforcement, depicts the way for future construction.
Monolite UK founder Enrico Dini states,
“First, we needed to mix the simulated lunar material with magnesium oxide. This turns it into paper’ we can print with… Then for our structural ‘ink’, we apply a binding salt that converts material to a stone-like solid. Our current printer builds at a rate of around 2 m/hour, while our next-generation design should attain 3.5 meter/hour, completing an entire building in a week.”
Apart from the new technique developed for construction, the project has a specific internal geometry similar to a bird’s bones with small, hollow cellular networks creating cumulative strength. For visualization purposes, a 1.5-tonne conceptual proof test block was produced to display the cellular structure and its methodology. This magnificent structure is now in the development phase for the actual implementation but thus far laid the foundation of new gems in space construction with lightweight & durable materials found biologically on the moon’s surface. Every unique architecture has its characteristic definition, & in this case, it is the Dome, material & the form of construction using 3-D printer tech.
2. Marsha by AI Spacefactory.
Another Space architecture concept developed by AI Spacefactory, primarily focused on martian living, is the epitome of sustainable construction from the materials of Mars itself. What attracts me the most is the ellipsoid-shaped structure made from 3-D printers.
- The project leads with the innovative mixture of basalt fiber extracted from Martian rock and renewable bioplastic processed from plants grown on Mars, making it sustainable.
- The team developed a recyclable composite material called basalt fiber & PLA, which they can process into forms suitable for deposition and assembly into structures with properties such as strength, renewable, nonconductive, and radiation shielding.
- The structure itself is one of the most efficient shapes for design and energy receptivity that acts in correspondence to its surroundings.
- Marshas’ built orientation is more sound in the sense of its multi-level design platform and upright position on the surface of Mars.
- By opting for a beacon structure instead of the primitive bunker, Marsha is keeping a close eye on Martian conditions while optimizing the structure’s internal atmospheric pressure and thermal stresses.
- At the same time, it reduces the risk in construction and increases the speed and accuracy.
Considering the human need for the sense of being around the earth, the team employed a dual shell to avoid the planet’s temperature swings in contact with occupants while isolating the habitable space-conserving the inside in a simple & effective form. With the optimized inside look of the structure, each level has a 360 panorama view with indirect natural light coming from the water-filled jackets in between. The inside perimeter looks like a constantly changing level with rover & space suits docking ports & are well-differentiated among several labs & kitchens. This project has many key elements to learn from & one such is the research & development about the extraction of materials produced & utilized there only, which is the best takeaway of sustainability & planetary oneness between Mars & Earth.
The future of Space architecture hinges on space exploration and expanding presence of human beings. With the current policies & advancements in technologies, it would be a reality for the initiation of space structures that are more limited to small-scale habitats in grouping systems and orbital modules with life cycles designed for several years or decades. Commanding different concepts & approaches by various private & government agencies, transferring space-ready infrastructure can be a near-future possibility, where the protection, safety & food consumption will remain the top priority. Nobody knows what the long-term human future in space will be, but frequent spaceflights will help explore vast possibilities that include space tourism & space mining. Said so, no matter what new endeavors we come up with, in any case, we will require space colonies with sustainable space architecture design.
Please note that what I have informed you here through the article is the shortest piece of data to give you a brief knowledge. To completely understand space architecture, its importance, and how architects can implement this solution on this planet, you have to refer to books. Some of the best ones, I found useful are mentioned in the resources section below.
1. Space Architecture: The New Frontier for Design Research (Architectural Design).
2. De Architectura by Vitruvius
3. Space Architecture: Buildings for the Outer Space.