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Foster in running for NASA-backed Mars base

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Foster + Partners New York has been shortlisted by US space agency NASA in a competition to design a new astronaut base which could be used on Mars

The practice has put forward proposals for a 93m² 3D printed module which will be built partly using natural materials found on the surface of the planet.

NASA, along with the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, has selected the scheme on the 30-strong shortlist for the next stage of judging.

A statement from Foster + Partners said: ‘The design of the habitat – carried out in collaboration with industrial and academic partners – envisions a robust 3D-printed dwelling for up to four astronauts constructed using regolith – the loose soil and rocks found on the surface of Mars.’

The proposal would see semi-autonomous robots select a site and dig a 1.5m crater, which would house inflatable modules.
Then another team of robots would excavate and fuse regolith around the modules using microwaves – the same principle involved in 3D printing.

‘The fused regolith creates a permanent shield that protects the settlement from excessive radiation and extreme outside temperatures,’ the practice said.

Inside, the module would have overlapping private and communal spaces, finished with ‘soft’ materials and ‘enhanced virtual environments’.

The top 30 submissions will be judged and a prize purse of $50,000 will be awarded at the 2015 World Maker Faire in New York this weekend (26 September).

The practice has previously contributed designs for a lunar habitation project run by the European Space Agency.

Foster + Partners' shortlisted proposals for a new Mars base

Foster + Partners’ shortlisted proposals for a new Mars base [September 2016]

Previous story (AJ 13.01.13)

Norman Foster reveals moon base plans

Foster + Partners has designed a multi-domed moon base for Europe’s equivalent of NASA

Backed by the European Space Agency (ESA), the scheme would be constructed from 3D-printed lunar soil avoiding the high cost of transporting materials from planet earth.

A 1.5 tonne building block was prototyped to demonstrate the construction method as part of  the feasibility study.

ESA’s Scott Hovland said the project showed one possible route to human settlement on the moon. ‘The new possibilities this work opens up can then be considered by international space agencies as part of the current development of a common exploration strategy,’ he said.

Prototype block: Foster + Partners' moon base project for the European Space Agency

Prototype block: Foster + Partners’ moon base project for the European Space Agency

Xavier De Kestelier of Foster + Partners said the studio’s experience of ‘designing for extreme climates on earth and exploiting the environmental benefits of using local, sustainable materials’ helped with the study. ‘Our lunar habitation follows a similar logic,’ he said.

The high-profile studio has already completed a 10,000m² spaceport in New Mexico.

The practice’s moon base design featured a weight-bearing ‘catenary’ dome with a cellular structured wall to shield against micrometeoroids and space radiation.

The design included a pressurized inflatable to shelter astronauts. The hollow closed-cell structure provides a good combination of strength and weight, according to an ESA statement.

The prototype block was fabricated by UK-based Monolite using a d-shaped printer usually used for making sculptures and artificial coral reefs.

‘First, we needed to mix the simulated lunar material with magnesium oxide. This turns it into “paper” we can print with,’ said company founder Enrico Dini. 

‘Then for our structural “ink” we apply a binding salt which converts material to a stone-like solid.

‘Our current printer builds at a rate of around 2 metres per hour, while our next-generation design should attain 3.5 metres per hour, completing an entire building in a week.’

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