Deployable habitat for a future lunar outpost

From March Issue of Compositi Magazine

Federico Cumino, Giacomo Frulla, Enrico Cestino, Eugenio Fossat, Nicola Giulietti, Alessio Piccolo
Politecnico di Torino, Composite Research

The realization of a human settlement on the Moon is the main purpose of most future space missions. Despite it represents a fundamental and necessary step for this scope, the lunar environment, and high mission cost do not make this challenge easy.

The aim of this article is to solve the previously mentioned problem, showing the preliminary design of a lightweight and deployable habitat able to ensure long-duration missions on the lunar surface.

Structural requirements

The Architectural, Environmental Control and Life Support (ECLS) and structural requirements are identified with respect to the lunar environment and the ECLS standard. A structural analysis is mainly carried out to understand the global behavior (displacements, strains, and stresses) of the proposed structure under different load conditions.

Moon does not seem so far

The proposed configuration fully satisfies the initial requirements also through the application of MadFlex: an innovative sandwich material. These results show the concrete possibility of a future and stable “back to the Moon”. Thanks to the last successes reached by SpaceX and the realization of the NASA’s Artemis program, the Moon does not seem so far. The challenge of the next years will be living on the Moon and not reaching it.

However, the reduction of mission costs is still an issue even if local resources provide a means of protection from the
external environment. Therefore, how can be possible to realize a lightweight and deployable habitat able to ensure long-duration missions?

Attempts in the history of deployable structure or inflatable

There were numerous attempts to realize deployable or inflatable structure in the history, but few had successful. Among the
first there is the “Echo 1 balloon” a passive communication reflector, built by NASA in 1960. It was able to increase its initial size from 1 m of diameter to 30.5 m, once inflated in space.

In 1961 the NASA, in collaboration with Goodyear, created an inflatable space station prototype to accommodate 1 or 2 astronauts [1]. However, the project was never launched. Many studies were carried out for the development of inflatable airlock for future lunar base, but all were discharged due to the “minimal volume gain compared to the attendant decrease in reliability and increase in operational complexity“.

Only in 1997 an inflatable module with a realistic possibility of fly was developed. Its name is “TransHab”. Conceived by NASA, it was originally designed as an interplanetary vehicle to transfer humans to Mars. Subsequently, it was designated as a replacement for the International Space Station (ISS) Habitation Module, but due to the high costs encountered by the agency, for the ISS realization, the project was discarded and the rights purchased by Bigelow aerospace.

In 2006 the company realized the “Genesis I” an inflatable module with a diameter of 2.4 m and a length of 4.3 m.

The docking at the ISS and the following expansion of the BEAM in the 2016 was the most important and famous success reached by a deployable structure in the history.





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