Want to see life on Mars? Look to SEArch+'s prize-winning habitat concept for NASA
New York City – What would life on Mars look like? We’re getting a lot closer to that vision, thanks to the New York-based team at SEArch+. At the start of this month, NASA awarded them a first place in complete virtual construction for the latest level of its 3D-printed Habitat Centennial Challenge.
SEArch+ has been working for over a decade with NASA’s Johnson Space Center Human Habitability Division, Langley Research Center and United Technologies Aerospace Division to brainstorm and develop ideas for how we can make other planets liveable. The 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge is a three-phase competition run by NASA with the aim of fostering the development of new housing technologies, both for up, up and away, and low-cost options here on Earth. SEArch+ won the first phase of the challenge in 2015 with the collaborative proposal Mars Ice House. The final part of the competition will culminate with a ‘head-to-head subscale structure print’ amongst three participating teams in early May, according to NASA.
SEArch+’s new proposal was for a surface habitat that could one day be 3D-printed using autonomous robotics from indigenous Martian regolith [the layer of loose solid material covering the bedrock of a planet] and high-density polyethylene plastic. The habitat – called Mars X-House – was created in collaboration with Apis Cor, the first company to develop specialized equipment for 3D-printing and construction of entire buildings on site. The idea is that the structure could one day house a crew of four working on Mars for an Earth year.
It’s an accomplishment that comes at an exciting time for aspiring Martians and space aficionados in general. Two days ago the public saw the first-ever image of a black hole, thanks to a team of 200 scientists and an algorithm created by computer scientist Dr. Katie Bouman. Designer Daan Roosegaarde is currently working with ESA and NASA to eliminate the satellite waste that’s circling above us at every minute. And SpaceX just celebrated a victory for the successful debut commercial launch of its Falcon Heavy rocket, one year after its demo mission.
‘We employed an evidence-based process which guided and generated the design of the habitat,’ said Melodie Yashar, SEArch+’s co-founder and the project lead for Mars X-House. ‘We consulted with a team of over 10 subject matter experts in fields as diverse as planetary geology, robotics, structural engineering and material science to generate the core design decisions of our proposal.’
For habitats that would be as far away from our world as one could get, the team’s vision presents itself as remarkably attentive to those astronauts who may deal with bouts of homesickness. Yashar stated that their concept is intended to amplify and respond to human needs in an extra-terrestrial environment. ‘Access to natural light and adherence to the astronaut’s natural circadian rhythms will be important for long-term surface habitation,’ she explained. ‘Within our proposal we introduce a vertical hydroponic garden as a food source and means of air replenishment, in addition to being a direct connection to nature for the crew. We programmed the habitat to separate work and leisure, as well as public and private spaces. Life safety was a hugely significant component too, as demonstrated in our project’s approach to radiation protection of the crew.’
‘SEArch+ will continue to work towards sub-scale and full-scale demonstrations of not only the construction technology but also the deployment mechanisms for future space habitats,’ added Yashar. ‘Our goal in our work and collaboration with NASA Langley has indeed been to develop a sub-scale demo of the Ice Home habitat concept, and our intent is the same for Mars X-House and our related projects in 3D-printing.’