Foster + Partners has been shortlisted among 30 other finalists in the 3D Printed Habitat Challenge organized by America Makes and NASA. The proposal calls for a 3D printed settlement built by pre-programmed, semi-autonomous robots who use regolith found on Mars' surface to construct dwellings that can house up to four astronauts each.
"The proposal considers multiple aspects of the project from delivery and deployment to construction and operations," says Foster. "The habitat will be delivered in two stages prior to the arrival of the astronauts."
From the architects: First, the semi-autonomous robots select the site and dig a 1.5 meter deep crater, followed by a second delivery of the inflatable modules which sit within the crater to form the core of the settlement. Given the vast distance from the Earth and the ensuing communication delays, the deployment and construction is designed to take place with minimal human input, relying on rules and objectives rather than closely defined instructions. This makes the system more adaptive to change and unexpected challenges – a strong possibility for a mission of this scale.
Three different kinds of robots are parachuted to the surface of Mars, each performing a specialized task within the large-scale Regolith Additive Construction (RAC) process. The larger ‘Diggers’ create the crater by excavating the regolith, which the medium-sized ‘Transporters’ then move into position over the inflatable habitat modules layer by layer. The loose Martian soil is then fused using microwaves around the modules using the same principles involved in 3D-printing by several small ‘Melters’. The fused regolith creates a permanent shield that protects the settlement from excessive radiation and extreme outside temperatures. The separation of tasks amongst the large number of robots, and the modularity of the habitat means a high level of redundancy is incorporated within the system – if one robot fails, or a single module is damaged, there are others that can fulfill its task, increasing the chances of a successful mission.
The design of the compact 93 square meter habitat modules combines spatial efficiency with human physiology and psychology, with overlapping private and communal spaces, finished with ‘soft’ materials and enhanced virtual environments, which help reduce the adverse effects of monotony, while creating positive living environment for the astronauts.
This continues the practice’s earlier design explorations for building in extreme environments and extra-terrestrial habitats such as the Lunar Habitation project in consortium with the European Space Agency.