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Space: The Next Frontier for the Construction Market?

Technology, especially as it pertains to travel, is progressing so rapidly that fifty years from now people will conceivably be working and living on the moon and even Mars.

Skylab, the US space station that orbited the Earth from 1973-79, remains the largest habitat ever launched, and may act as a blueprint for future space habitations. The biggest holdback in establishing a space settlement is cost: today, it would cost an estimated £330,000 to send one brick to the moon.

As a result, architects with eventual space habitation as a goal are developing lightweight materials and there is presently a focus on inflatable structures that would allow entire settlements to be folded up and packed on a space shuttle.

Bigelow, a US aerospace company, currently holds a contract with NASA to install the first inflatable on the ISS. Named the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, it is made from a fabric containing bulletproof Vectran and a ‘superfibre’ made from liquid crystal polyacrylate, enabling it to withstand micrometeroids. The company is also planning for a space hotel.

Inflatables have been regarded as potential space habitations since the 1960s, when Goodyear, a tyre company, was commissioned by NASA to design a huge galactic inner tube. It was never launched into space, but the structure inspired imitators, such as Guillermo Trotti, who proposed an inflatable lunar habitat in 1974. Trotti went on to co-found Saskawa International Centre for Space Architecture, the only masters programme for space architecture.

Space architects claim that the moon’s surface is a goldmine of potential building materials that can be used to make bricks, glass, metals, and paint. There are also massive caverns below level that could be made habitable, protecting people from solar storms and radiation.

Architects at the University of Southern California (USC) have been working on developing a moon-compatible 3D-printing method, using concrete made from moondust. Across the Atlantic, Norman Foster’s office has been working with the European Space Agency to ‘print’ a moondust shell over a series of inflatable domes whose intended site is near the Shackleton crater.

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Mars, the ‘red planet’, is also being considered as a new habitation site. Landing settlers on its surface is likely to cost over $100 billion but the president of the Mars Society beleives that “Mars is the new world” adding that mankind will have all the necessary technology for a piloted mission to the red planet soon. The Mars Society beleive that eventually millions of people will be living on the planet and living off the the land.

Others who foresee human habitation on Mars believe that inflatable greenhouses surrounded by UV-resistant plastic domes will be the first structures. The materials would originally come from Earth, but eventually be manufactured on Mars using materials indigenous to the planet.

In May 2014 NASA ran a competition that invited architects and engineers to design a Mars base. The submissions included a huge dome encircled by solar panels that can enclose the dome to protect it from the elements and a steampunk-style design that can be elevated off the ground to deflect the wind.

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