What does living on the moon look like? SAGA's Lunar Habitat explores

Currently being tested in Greenland, project LUNARK involves a space habitat prototype inspired by origami that simulates life on the moon.

by Anmol Ahuja Published on : Nov 07, 2020

“What does it take to live on the Moon?” SAGA Space Architects pose this omniscient question for space explorers with an eye for the design aspects that could come to influence such future habitats. For Sebastian Aristotelis and Karl-Johan Sørensen, the next lunar habitat is not a mere possibility lying in the far future. The young founder duo of SAGA have thus taken it upon themselves to design the most advanced and livable ”Moon Home”. This has led to the team at SAGA taking up their most ambitious and challenging project yet: a three-month expedition to one of the harshest landscapes on Earth, in order to test out a lunar habitat designed by their team.

  • Visualisation of the LUNARK habitat during the Greenland expedition| LUNARK | SAGA Space Architects | STIRworld
    Visualisation of the LUNARK habitat during the Greenland expedition Image: Courtesy of SAGA Space Architects
  • A visualisation of the Lunark habitat in a blizzard as a simulation of the extreme weather it is built to endure | LUNARK | SAGA Space Architects | STIRworld
    A visualisation of the LUNARK habitat in a blizzard as a simulation of the extreme weather it is built to endure Image: Courtesy of SAGA Space Architects

Officially named Project LUNARK, the mission sees Aristotelis and Sørensen on expedition to Northern Greenland, testing the prototype in a full fledged lunar analogue mission. The two men are currently in the second month of their 85-day operation, where they have been living in complete isolation, disconnected from civilisation, on a terrain and under natural conditions that they consider to be closely emulating those of the moon. The expedition is expected to clock out on December 02, 2020, from where the two ’analogue astronauts’ will be airlifted and their significant personal findings shared with the world.

Top view of the LUNARK habitat | LUNARK | SAGA Space Architects | STIRworld
Top view of the LUNARK habitat Image: Courtesy of SAGA Space Architects

The popularity of space habitats, both practical and conceptual, has caught on with the architectural world, with BIG signing on to develop 3D printed moon homes with ICON, and Elon Musk’s Mars colonising resolute regularly making the news. In that, LUNARK attempts to stand out by tending to the psychological aspects and toll of the long-term inhabitation of such a habitat. “If humans are to settle on the Moon and other planets, we must be very careful with how we design the homes for these pioneers. In space, your habitat is your entire world. There is no nature, change of scenery, or newness. It’s just you and your pod. If the designs continue to be sterile survival machines, the astronauts who have to live there for months at a time will wither from the lack of nature and sensory stimulation,” states the design team at SAGA. Keeping that in mind, with this prototype, the team envisions to design a moon habitat that fits the moon like an organism fits its natural environment, and to corroborate and further their learnings from as close of a scenario to on ground testing as possible. 

A closeup of the folding detail of the LUNARK habitat’s exterior surface (visualisation)| LUNARK | SAGA Space Architects | STIRworld
A closeup of the folding detail of the LUNARK habitat’s exterior surface (visualisation) Image: Courtesy of SAGA Space Architects

The need to build such a habitat also arises from the forethought that numerous current analogue lunar missions carried out by the space industry fail to completely simulate actual long-term habitable lunar conditions. “The climate is pleasant, help is just around the corner and the missions are short. Psychological studies are limited by strict ethical guidelines,” feel the principal architects at SAGA. The challenge was to emulate as closely as possible the hostility of the Moon as a future community, including factoring in an atmospheric vacuum, cosmic radiation, no natural resources and extreme temperature fluctuations. Arctic Greenland was thus as real as it got for the team. A vast white landscape, extreme temperatures, complete remoteness and lack of accessibility, and a near eternal summer ensure the region to be perfectly suited for the team’s research. In addition to the physical challenges, the team also addressed in their design the mental challenges that would accompany such a mission, and in extension, any such lunar mission too: the lack of stimuli, isolation, confinement, monotony, claustrophobia and psychological stress.

  • Section through the LUNARK habitat showing space division within the pod | LUNARK | SAGA Space Architects | STIRworld
    Section through the LUNARK habitat showing space division within the pod Image: Courtesy of SAGA Space Architects
  • Longitudinal cross section and layout plan of the LUNARK habitat | LUNARK | SAGA Space Architects | STIRworld
    Longitudinal cross section and layout plan of the LUNARK habitat Image: Courtesy of SAGA Space Architects

The prototype for the habitat was conceived over a period of nearly 18 months and constructed over an additional two months in Denmark, partnering with scientists, engineers, and polar experts before being sent out for the expedition. The primary idea was to incorporate its folding as a structure unto itself to optimise space in the rocket's payload, and for it to expand once deployed on the moon’s surface. Seeking inspiration from the Japanese art of origami, the ‘folds’ in structure allow the habitat to expand by 560 per cent by volume upon deployment, after being shipped off in a rocket or a shipping container.

  • Elevation of the LUNARK habitat for scale comparison | LUNARK | SAGA Space Architects | STIRworld
    Elevation of the LUNARK habitat for scale comparison Image: Courtesy of SAGA Space Architects
  • Elevation of the LUNARK habitat in its collapsible/expandable stages | LUNARK | SAGA Space Architects | STIRworld
    Elevation of the LUNARK habitat in its collapsible/expandable stages Image: Courtesy of SAGA Space Architects

The habitat was to be designed as a tank from the outside to withstand extreme conditions, and a “home” from the inside, fostering Hygge, a Danish word implying coziness, comfort, conviviality and contentment. Among the other requirements to be constituted in the habitat for achieving its desired set of outcomes include solar panels on the exterior for sequestering its energy needs to intend being on the Moon’s southern pole, simulating a circadian system, an incorporated 3D printer, vertical farming system, batteries, water and stowage systems, and an algae based life support system. This is in addition to the design being conscious of the environment it’s placed in, harbouring a zero waste ecosystem.

  • Construction of the habitat’s mockup for testing its folding mechanism | LUNARK | SAGA Space Architects | STIRworld
    Construction of the habitat’s mockup for testing its folding mechanism Image: Courtesy of SAGA Space Architects
  • Mockup assembly of the LUNARK habitat | LUNARK | SAGA Space Architects | STIRworld
    Mockup assembly of the LUNARK habitat Image: Courtesy of SAGA Space Architects

The prototype habitat incorporates a circadian system along with a weather simulator, to help the astronauts maintain the diurnal rhythm in a simulated manner, and to avoid the effects of a broken, out of sync circadian rhythm. Both simulators work to break the monotony and lack of novelty that is brought forth in lunar (or analogous) living conditions. According to the designers, you might one day wake up to a stormy day, or a rainbow of colour, while a gradual change in hue and luminosity of a ceiling emanating colours help you fall asleep or to rise and shine. The habitat also has a digital clone of itself, which connects all its systems (life support, heat, water, electricity) with embedded sensors. The goal is to be able to predict maintenance or risks through a simple AI, so replacements for parts can be 3D printed before they break. Apart from this, the habitat houses an algae reactor designed by SAGA. The architects strongly believe that algae will play an important role in future space travel on account of being resilient, highly photosynthetic, nutritious, and absorbing cosmic radiation. All this is seamlessly and wirelessly integrated through an IoT system dubbed ODIN.

  • The completed LUNARK habitat prototype for testing in northern Greenland | LUNARK | SAGA Space Architects | STIRworld
    The completed LUNARK habitat prototype for testing in northern Greenland Image: Courtesy of SAGA Space Architects
  • The collapsed prototype ready to be shipped to site | LUNARK | SAGA Space Architects | STIRworld
    The collapsed prototype ready to be shipped to site Image: Courtesy of SAGA Space Architects

The ‘skin’ of the habitat is composed of hundreds of pieces of extremely durable rubber glued together to encapsulate the aluminium frame. The rubber skin is then fitted with a composite material consisting of carbon sheets with a core of ArmaForm, a material made of recycled bottles. This creates a resistant outer layer to protect the habitat from extreme conditions. On the inside of the panel, insulation material is attached. This elaborate assembly is sturdily supported in form and on ground by an aluminium frame, including the landing legs and the star shaped load bearing middle rings. The habitat is further tied to the ground using powerful steel cables and anchors.

The name of the project itself is a clever play between ‘lunar’ and ‘ark’, and is one among many notable space simulation projects that the team has attempted over the years. LUNARK now pushes forward into its final month of expedition, where its principal architects are still inhabiting the origami-inspired habitat pod.

Project Details

Name: LUNARK
Time taken from conception to construction: 1.5 years
Time taken for construction: Two months
Design Team: Sebastian Aristotelis, Karl-Johan Sørensen, Simon DH  Kristensen
Consultants: DTU Space, Prevas, TERMA
Primary Materials Used: Aluminum, carbon, rubber, and PET

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