Locally Sourced Materials – Lunar Habitat Design

Dan Knapmiller – Week 7

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As we continue to explore beyond our own terrestrial home we are faced with the need to create habitats that can sustain human life.  The privatization of space travel along with a push for a manned mission to Mars increasingly necessitate the exploration of potential designs for a lunar base.  The Moon can be seen as an eventual destination for tourists and scientists as well as a launch point for missions into deeper space.
When considering potential designs for lunar habitats many things need to be considered- not the least of which is the potential damage caused by inevitable micrometeoroid impacts.  The lunar atmosphere, or lack thereof, leaves the surface exposed to a constant bombardment of small but potentially catastrophic impacts.  The impact of micrometeoroids, sometimes traveling faster than 60,000 miles per hour, generates enough heat to melt or partially vaporize dust particles.  This results in a layer of regolith on the lunar surface.  Regolith is a loose, heterogeneous material covering the solid rock of the Moon’s surface.  It includes dust, soil, broken rock, and other related materials and is present on Earth, the Moon, Mars, some asteroids, and other terrestrial planets and moons.  Regolith is generally 4 to 5 meters thick in mare areas and around 10 to 15 meters thick in the older highland regions.  This dusty layer of material acts as a sort of shock absorber for all but the most significant impacts and should be considered as a potential building material for lunar habitats.  Like some earthen construction, lunar regolith could be a pragmatic solution to many of our design needs on the moon.  Importantly, it is a readily available material that would not require transport from Earth.  It would likely need to be bagged in some fashion in order to secure it atop the rest of the habitat construction- but it is likely to be one of the most simple material solutions to provide insulation and the aforementioned shock absorption.  Designers and engineers considering potential lunar habitat designs are acutely aware of the need to include fracture and fatigue properties within the hardware used in these constructions.  Utilizing local materials (in this case lunar regolith) should certainly be considered for the design of our structures on the moon.

images from the European Space Agency (top image from Foster + Partners’ feasibility study for a 3D-Printed lunar base for the European Space Agency)

other sources

Bell, Larry; Olga Bannova. “Lunar Habitat Micrometeoroid and Radiation Shielding: Options, Applications, and Assessments.” Journal of Aerospace Engineering 24, no. 1 (2011): 72-78.

Manning, Elizabeth. “NASA Looks Ahead to Moon Habitat.” The Officer,     September 1, 2009, 45.

Smith, A.  “Mechanics of Materials in Lunar Base Design.”  Applied Mechanics Reviews, 46.6, 1993, 268.

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One comment

  1. lutzx195

    Hunter Lutz – lutzx195
    Comment 2 on “Locally Sourced Materials – Lunar Habitat Design” – week 7
    From what I’ve read it sounds like we could be starting civilizations on the moon in as little as 10 years. Being that this is so close in the near future, the sooner we can figure out building materials the better. From how you described this material, Regolith seems like a great candidate. Because it is found in the same local area as the building site, it would be better than other materials that would have to be transported from earth to the site, thus saving resources, cutting expenses, and saving precious time. It sounds like this would be a good material to cover buildings on the moon or mars to absorb meteorite blows. However, I do question Regolith’s ability to absorb meteorite blows at up to 60,000 miles per hour (even if it is piled up 5 meters or so) as you say it can. A rock traveling at 60,000 miles per hour has quite a considerably high velocity and force. This quality of the material will need to be looked into and tested further before we can be sure that it will be able to withstand these extreme conditions. I also would advise that you don’t describe it as a “building material” as you said, looking at the pictures it looks like it is meant to cover the exterior of the building and provide a protective barrier; I’m guessing this is how you meant to describe it rather than as a “building material.” It will be interesting to see what will happen as we extend civilization outside of Earth’s atmosphere.

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