A team of student engineers at North Carolina State University is planning for a camping trip way off the beaten path. Meshing textile and aerospace engineering know-how, the team has created an inflatable, tent-like habitat tough enough to protect astronauts bedding down on the Martian surface. They've even built in a lightweight Sabatier reactor that can produce water, fuel, and oxygen from Mars' carbon dioxide-rich environment.
The challenge was to build a lightweight, collapsable structure that--unlike NASA's current range of spacefaring materials--isn't heavy, rigid, and voluminous. The 1,900-square-foot living space the team designed is a blend of materials that includes Demron, a commercially available textile used in various radiation- and heat-proof hazmat implements (nuclear workers cleaning up Japan's current radioactive mess are wearing the stuff).
A polyurethane substrate gives the material rigidity when inflated, and a gold-metalicized film that reflects UV rays provides additional protection. The habitat's dome shape is also optimized to repel the incoming meteorites that regularly pelt the Martian surface.
Perhaps more importantly, this Mars habitat will integrate a better, more spaceworthy Sabatier reactor than the ones currently used in space (the Sabatier process involves using a nickel catalyst to cause a reaction between carbon dioxide and hydrogen at high temperatures that produces water and methane).
There is currently a Sabatier reactor aboard the International Space Station, but it includes long, weighty tubes filled with nickel pellets--hardly ideal for packing on a deep space journey where every pound must be accounted for. The NCSU team's answer: a nickel nanoparticle coated fiber material that can still create the reaction without the bulk and weight of those tubes.
Though it will be decades before such a tent might be pitched upon Martian terrain, the student team is wasting no time getting their technologies in front of the people who can help get it there. They will present their inflatable habitat to the NASA-sponsored RASCAL (that's Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts Academic Linkage) competition next week.
is it just me or is the scale in the picture really wierd?
No if they had used more depth it would have been easier to tell that the astronauts closer were on a cliff taking pictures from further away
i think its a moonbase based on the picture
I know what they were going for, i'm just straining to make it work.
Is there a nanotube plastic wrap yet? Could it be used to make massive enclosures needed on Mars?
Nanotube plastic wrap?
best way to get people stabilized on the moon. plus i seeing underground quarters in the pic which makes it even better.
So, the message of the picture is that there are giants on Mars?
5 floors in Hab pictured
380sq. feet average per level.
divide 380 by Pi(3.14159265) = 120 (this is the radius squared.
Sq. root of 120 = 11 ft radius (10.95 to be exact)
The picture shows a man in blue and black on middle level and seems to scale for that radius.
Only question I have is, How would they lift something that big out of Earth's gravity? Even empty and deflated that's a big mass, one would think....
We need to hurry up and build that proposed railgun that would launch packages into the high atmosphere, enabling interplanetary transport with very low fuel and cost requirements. Then we could make a habit of launching small, automated carrier craft to the moon, Mars, or space stations, delivering materials and people for construction, addition, and maintenance.
It will be outstanding settling colonies on Mars, I dream a day we build a relativistic spacedrive to take us there. www.youtube.com/watch?v=sgAwyr5Udzw
it probably comes in pieces, i imagine it would bolt together with a washer esq ring of some sort between each layer and perhaps a outer whole layer
This article was not well researched. Not only did the team at NCSU not build any type of prototype of their dome, they also did not do any of the necessary tests required to ensure that the inhabitants of the dome would be safe from radiation. I worked with this team personally. While they did make significant progress in the research of Sabatier reactor they made no progress in the development of dome technology. In fact the test they performed on radiation safety and damage could be consider a waste of time as well as misguided. For one the safety tests did not show any radiation protection, in part due to the fact that they did not provide a sufficient thickness of material to even observe protection. The radiation damage/embrittlement tests used dosages on the order of that you would receive during an x-ray exam. I for one have never noticed my skin becoming brittle after an x-ray. In fact these damage tests were performed without any knowledge of what the actual dose to the material would be. The next time Popular Science writes an article they should actually do the research so that they find undergraduate students doing exciting work with results worthy of praise. I would again like to clarify that PopSci was incorrect when the wrote that this team actually built the habitat; no habitat of any kind was built and only a rough plan of the design has been put on paper.
johnt007871: Not much we can do about PopSci's choice of flavor art.
Battleshield: Same remark. PopSci's choice of flavor art would be an established base, not a first one.
engineer235: Correct, we didn't build a house-sized structure. The radiation testing, as you know, was intended to study the effects of radiation on the high-performance structure, not on the astronauts. Demron, produced by RST (Radiation Shield Technologies), protects the crew and structure from radiation with the equivalent of about 2 inches of lead. There is no practical way to test truly high-energy charged and neutral particles on Earth, so we did the best we could. I do wish PopSci had gotten the fact that this is a materials & systems project, with the habitat design being largely conceptual. We had limited resources and time, and thank you for your contributions to our project.
The limited work you did with the project only involved testing of the Vectran. This is the strength material not the radiation protection material. WE DO have lots of research proving the effectiveness of our radiation protection. Demron is a well studied material, and the amounts we have are equivalent to 2 inches of lead. If that weren't enough, we also have eight inches of Martian regolith on top of that. This is far superior to alternative designs and capable of shielding anything but the highest energy particles, which you know are pretty much impossible to stop without a lot more mass. You also know they are rare and isolated and incapable of compromising the structural integrity of our habitat.
Vectran is already used in space, but it has never been tested to see what effects radiation has on it's strength. Short of sending some to Mars for 20 years there isn't much you can do to test this. We tested it using the only radiation source we had available. It's not high-energy, but there aren't many radiation sources available that are. We don't have access to a particle accelerator. Even if we did they're not high enough energy either, or capable of long exposures for that matter. But you know all of this so I'm not sure why you're whining. Our Vectran is behind our shielding (described above) so it won't be exposed to anything but the highest energy particles anyway. And they are isolated and rare.
As to our project being misguided, unexciting, unworthy of praise, of the 20 or so Ph.Ds that have helped us at one time or another including NASA personnel, you are the first person to reach that conclusion so I'm not really worried about it.
Seems a little silly now that someone discovered a Mars base on Google Mars. Seriously. Check it out:
Unless this is a little Google joke, but Da-da doubts it. They'd lose all credibility with such a stunt.