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Second place for Foster in Mars base contest

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Foster + Partners has been named as the runner-up in the first round of a competition to design a new Mars base and will now work up its proposals for the next phase

The practice won $15,000 in the NASA-run competition, finishing behind a team with roots in Columbia University’s Space Studio which proposed building new structures from subsurface Mars ice (see below and MarsIceHouse).

Fosters also won a ‘people’s choice’ award after it came top of a ballot of around 1,000 attendees at the New York Maker Faire over the weekend.

Xavier de Kestelier, co-head of the specialist modelling group at Fosters, told the Architects’ Journal: ‘The biggest challenge we faced in coming up with our designs was the huge distance between Mars and the Earth.

‘It takes 20 minutes to get a message from Earth, so our design has to be built by autonomous robots – you can’t control them directly from Earth.’

The practice has put forward proposals for a 93m² 3D printed module which would see a fleet of robots dig holes into which three conjoined inflatable modules with five airlocks would be placed.

To protect architects from radiation, the modules would be clad by separate robots melting rocks and dust from the surface of the planet to mould pentagon-shaped bricks.

After an estimated build time of around 18 months, astronauts would arrive to a fully oxygenated environment, and plug in shower and laboratory equipment.

‘Each of the modules could operate independently so there is a big degree of redundancy built in,’ de Kestelier said.

Fosters has worked with space robotics firm Astrobotic on the design of the robots, and with John Eager, base commander at the Halley Research Station in Antarctica on the design of the modules.

De Kestelier said: ‘Bases on the South Pole cannot be reached or evacuated during winter, so it is the nearest thing to the Mars experience on Earth.
‘We have included a fair bit of tactile material, such as wood veneers so that it is not all just monotonous white shiny surfaces.

‘We also learnt that the Antarctic base staff don’t spend much time in their own quarters, so we have been able to maximise the amount of communal space, and make the personal quarters quite small.’

He said the firm was waiting on instructions from NASA for the next two phases of the competition, which will cover demonstrations of building materials followed by construction of a full-scale habitat.

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

Winner of Mars Base contest: Mars Ice House

Winner of Mars Base contest: Mars Ice House

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.

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

Foster + Partners’ moon base project for the European Space Agency [September 2013]

‘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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