The problem with setting up permanent encampments on extraterrestrial bodies is simple: Earth is the only place we’ve found that supports life–at least the kinds we know about. Every force of nature works against us when it comes to building a home away from our planet. The logistics of providing a team of space cowboys (and cowgirls, of course) with protection from radiation, a sustainable atmosphere, food and water are daunting.
A group of students at North Carolina State University (NCSU) think they have it worked out, though. Yesterday, the university released an announcement stating that a team of aerospace and textile engineering students believe the holy grail of space exploration is in the materials. Rather than relying on bulky aluminum, fiberglass and carbon fibers, the team designed an inflatable habitation unit using radiation-deflecting Demron™, a gas-tight polyurethane liner to seal in air, and a gold-based UV film that blocks astronauts from exposure.
“We’re using novel applications of high-tech textile technology and applying them to aerospace problems,” explains Alex Ray, a textile engineering student and team member. “Being able to work with classmates in aeronautical engineering allowed us to combine our knowledge from both disciplines to really think through some original solutions.”
The dome shape of the proposed camp reduces damage from meteorites and environmental weathering. They took care of that pesky “we need water to live” problem by giving the standard Sabatier reactor an upgrade. Rather than relying on heavy tubes of nickel pellets (which are heavy and therefore costly to transport), the NCSU team designed a fiber material embedded with nickel nanoparticles, thereby allowing the same reaction of hydrogen and carbon dioxide to produce water, but in a more easily maneuverable and cheaper-to-carry format. And since Mars is quite literally covered in carbon dioxide, only hydrogen would have to be launched with the build team.
As for food, the press release makes no mention. Given that the design allows for atmosphere entrapment, it’s feasible that it could be modified to incorporate a green area for food crops and a self-recycling air system.
It’s an interesting design (though I wish there were pictures). What do you guys think?