Few days back, we talked about an ongoing simulated Mars mission, in which a group of six volunteers will be spending the next twelve months in complete isolation, inside a dome habitat on the slopes of Hawaii’s Mauna Loa volcano. As part of another NASA-funded experiment, inviting new and innovative designs for 3D-printed Martian habitats, French company, Fabulous, has amassed a team of highly-qualified scientists and architects to develop plans for the Sfero House, a spectacular bubble-shaped structure that could be printed right in the middle of the Red Planet.
The design features two concentric domes, separated by pockets of water in between. A transparent corridor, extending outwards from the pod, acts as the main entrance. The habitat’s interior includes two levels – the ground floor and the basement – connected by means of a spiral staircase. The upper floor houses workstations as well as an indoor garden of sorts, while suspended sleeping areas are present downstairs. A combination of the words, sphere, iron and water, “Sfero” refers to the concept’s chief feature: using Mars’ natural resources to construct homes for humans.
The project aims at harvesting Mars’ abundance of iron oxide, a mineral that lends the planet its red color, with the help of specially-engineered robots. The pod’s basic structure is built using the drilled iron particles, while the water, present in 30-cm-wide pockets between the two metallic shells, is extracted from deep within the Martian soil. According to NASA, around 1.5 to 3-percent of water exists in the planet’s permafrost (or soil that remains below freezing point all through the year) especially in the polar regions.
The robot, entrusted with the task of erecting the Sfero houses, is basically a long, pole-like automaton, with two functioning arms, which can be lodged deep into the Martian surface. One of the robot’s arms is used to extract water and iron particles from the soil, while the other features a metal 3D printer that can produce molten iron with the help of a high-powered laser. Once the foundation has been laid, the robot goes on to fabricate the pod’s external structure using the gathered raw materials.
The double-hulled body of the Sfero House, along with the layer of water in between, actually protect the residents from the harmful solar radiation that the Red Planet’s thin atmosphere fails to block. In addition to supporting human life, the stored water can be used for producing food, and consequently oxygen, inside the dome habitat. Arnault Coulet, the owner of Fabulous, believes that it also acts as:
… a permanent psychological reminder of the main element of the mother planet – water constituting a sort of protective amniotic fluid for humans.
Furthermore, the robot-mounted 3D printer is capable of constructing all necessary furnishings, including walls, floors, chairs and beds. According to the designers, an entire colony of Martian habitats could be erected by only a few dozen of these robots, and with little to no human involvement. If the plan reaches fruition, the planet’s Gale crater, the developers believe, would be the ideal site for the construction of the Sfero homes.