To the Moon, Mars, and beyond: Innovative space architecture projects from 2021

STIR presents some of the most exciting space design projects - from vehicles to entire settlements - that share a vision of how humanity can settle on other worlds.

by Jerry ElengicalPublished on : Dec 12, 2021

Space architecture and design is an arena that has been explored by quite a few major players in recent months, with leading global creatives having presented visions of what life would be like on Moon or Mars.The summer of 2021 witnessed game changing moments in the private sector space race, making great strides in the push to make space tourism a part of everyday life. Monumental suborbital private space flights such as the Virgin Galactic Unity 22 and the Blue Origin NS-16 have garnered significant media attention, alongside upcoming state-sponsored programs such as NASA’s Artemis missions and future stages of its Mars Exploration Program (MEP). The human race’s desire to expand horizons, to move beyond our home planet, and create settlements in space is one that may not be confined to the realm of fiction for too long. In spite of the enormity of work remaining to make the dream a viable reality - particularly the challenge of transporting and housing humans and equipment amid the extreme conditions of interplanetary space - the future appears relatively promising, at least for the present moment. On this note, STIR has curated a list of some of the most exciting and innovative space projects in the spotlight this year - at scales ranging from personal vehicles to entire urban settlements - that detail out a vision for the future infrastructure and technological aids humanity would need in its bid to settle on new worlds within the solar system.

1. Mars Dune Alpha by ICON and Bjarke Ingels Group

  • Mars Dune Alpha by ICON and Bjarke Ingels Group | Space architecture and design roundup | STIRworld
    Mars Dune Alpha by ICON and Bjarke Ingels Group Image: Courtesy of ICON
  • Conceptual render of Mars Dune Alpha being 3D-printed | Space architecture and design roundup | STIRworld
    Conceptual render of Mars Dune Alpha being 3D-printed Image: Courtesy of ICON
  • ICON’s next-gen Vulcan 3D-printing system will assemble the 1,700 sq ft structure | Space architecture and design roundup | STIRworld
    ICON’s next-gen Vulcan 3D-printing system will assemble the 1,700 sq ft structure Image: Courtesy of ICON

A joint endeavour by Denmark-based architecture firm Bjarke Ingels Group and ICON - a leader in adapting 3D-printing technology in construction applications, Mars Dune Alpha is a 3D-printed habitat tailor-made for the Martian surface. The project was developed as part of NASA’s CHAPEA (Crew Health Performance Exploration Analog) mission simulations, which will strive to determine how astronauts will be affected by extended stays on the surface of the red planet. The 1,700 sq ft module will host common living spaces, private crew quarters, food-production spaces, medical areas, and dedicated workstations. Set to be assembled at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, USA, using ICON’s next-generation Vulcan robotic printing system, the structure will feature a sinuous, arcing shell and will be one of the earliest realised prototypes for architecture on Mars.

2. Tardigrade by Hookie

  • Tardigrade, a two-wheeled lunar rover by Hookie | Space architecture and design roundup | STIRworld
    Tardigrade, a two-wheeled lunar rover by Hookie Image: J. Conrad Schmidt, Courtesy of Hookie
  • Tardigrade in action on the moon’s surface | Space architecture and design roundup | STIRworld
    Tardigrade in action on the moon’s surface Image: J. Conrad Schmidt, Courtesy of Hookie
  • The vehicle’s underlying structure references space design from fiction and reality | Space architecture and design roundup | STIRworld
    The vehicle’s underlying structure references space design from fiction and reality Image: Courtesy of Hookie

Hookie, a motorcycle design company based in Dresden, Germany, has developed a prototype for a two-wheeled lunar exploration vehicle dubbed Tardigrade. Inspired by the digital artwork of Russian artist Andrew Fabishevskiy, Sylvia and Nico Müller, the Co-Founders of Hookie, came up with a thought experiment for a two-wheeled lunar rover, which, over a period of nine months, morphed into Tardigrade. Named for a microscopic life form capable of surviving in the extreme conditions of outer space, the vehicle references space design, particularly satellites, space stations, and orbital vehicles, both from science fiction and reality. Composed of an extremely slim frame of laser cut aluminium with innovative balloon wheels, airless tires, and rims that have been 3D-printed from UV-resistant thermoplastics, the automobile design project is the result of collaboration, technology, and sustainability, bound by the spirit of adventure and innovation.

3. Plan C. by Makhno Studio

  • Plan C. Mars settlement concept by Makhno Studio | Space architecture and design roundup | STIRworld
    Plan C. Mars settlement concept by Makhno Studio Image: Courtesy of Makhno Studio
  • A lengthy public area runs throughout the structure, connecting auxiliary spaces | Space architecture and design roundup | STIRworld
    A lengthy public area runs throughout the structure, connecting auxiliary spaces Image: Courtesy of Makhno Studio
  • The agricultural zones feature spherical greenhouses that have been developed as ‘designer capsules’ for food production | Space architecture and design roundup | STIRworld
    The agricultural zones feature spherical greenhouses that have been developed as ‘designer capsules’ for food production Image: Courtesy of Makhno Studio

Ukraine-based practice Makhno Studio has imagined a self-sustaining settlement along the insides of a crater near Mars’ equator. The concept for a self-contained type of Martian architecture, named ‘Plan C.’ is designed to be assembled using large-scale 3D-printing on a partially terraformed Martian surface, at a point in the future where humanity possesses the technology to process the red planet’s resources, eliminate residual surface radiation and extract sufficient oxygen and water to produce food and sustain life. Composed of a torus-shaped form with a grand public hall extending throughout most of its interior, the concept contains a medical centre, an isolation ward, an atmosphere monitoring research centre, chemical and biological laboratories, a control area, and an administrative block, alongside spherical greenhouses for food production, residential quarters, and extensive landscape design elements.

 4. Nüwa City by ABIBOO Studio and SONet

  • Nüwa City, cliff and valley by ABIBOO Studio and SONet | Space architecture and design roundup | STIRworld
    Nüwa City, cliff and valley by ABIBOO Studio and SONet Image: Courtesy of ABIBOO Studio / SONet (Renders by Gonzalo Rojas, Sebastián Rodriguez & Verónica Florido)
  • Nüwa City, large pavilion | Space architecture and design roundup | STIRworld
    Nüwa City, large pavilion Image: Courtesy of ABIBOO Studio / SONet (Renders by Gonzalo Rojas, Sebastián Rodriguez & Verónica Florido)
  • Nüwa City, Green dome-type 2 | Space architecture and design roundup | STIRworld
    Nüwa City, Green dome-type 2 Image: Courtesy of ABIBOO Studio / SONet (Renders by Gonzalo Rojas, Sebastián Rodriguez & Verónica Florido)

Nüwa City is a proposal for the first self-sustaining Martian settlement, as part of a planet-wide urban architectural development conceptualised by ABIBOO Studio alongside an international team of scientists from the SONet network. The scheme posits housing for five cities, 200,000 - 250,000 each, with Nüwa as the nexus and capital. Structures constituting the settlement are envisioned to be embedded into the surfaces of natural cliffs, with much of the functional areas being placed within excavated rock formations, and vertically bound together by high-speed elevator systems - much like conventional skyscrapers. Sustainability was a core concern throughout the design process, considering the depletion of resources and diminishing environment quality on planet Earth as a result of conventional building methods. Hence, the design team implemented measures such as reusing the soil obtained from cliff excavations, as a buffer layer above the roof structures at ground level to mitigate the threat of excessive radiation exposure. Modularity and flexibility were also of paramount importance, with the urban design proposal's 10 m x 60 m tubular modules designed to adaptively connect as and when needed.

5. BioPod by Interstellar Lab

  • BioPod on the lunar surface | Space architecture and design roundup | STIRworld
    BioPod on the lunar surface Image: Courtesy of Interstellar Lab
  • Overhead view of the BioPod module | Space architecture and design roundup | STIRworld
    Overhead view of the BioPod module Image: Courtesy of Interstellar Lab
  • Render of the module deployed on the surface of Mars | Space architecture and design roundup | STIRworld
    Render of the module deployed on the surface of Mars Image: Courtesy of Interstellar Lab

Interstellar Lab’s BioPod is a modular, deployable plant cultivation pod whose inflatable and resilient design combines advanced agricultural technology along with predictive monitoring capabilities and environmental control systems to grow a wide variety of crops that would not survive in the conditions created by conventional indoor farming models. The project is one among numerous pods that integrate to form the EBIOS (Experimental BIOregenerative Stations) module developed by Interstellar Lab in 2019. BioPod is said to be capable of functioning both in this arrangement and as a standalone system, to provide solutions for local, regenerative and efficient agriculture while fostering biodiversity, turning carbon dioxide to oxygen, closing out the water loop, and reducing land requirements significantly for life on Mars, the Moon, and back on Earth. Its design has been geared to be adapted to NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to take humans back to the Moon by 2024.

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