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Inflatable Lunar Habitat Holds Promise For Earth Too


Advances in technology here on Earth are pointing the way toward revolutionary inflatable habitat structures on the Moon and Mars. Improving the details for use off-planet will also inevitably spin off into more advances for Earth based architecture.

A habitat based on biology

Austrian researchers never got over their love of their childhood bouncy-house. If they had their way, they would live in a similar inflatable habitat full time. On the Moon. Maybe even Mars.

They have plans on the drawing board and they’re working real hard to sell them to NASA. Connecting a set of tunnel like greenhouses can form a “village.” The whole thing needs to be buried for technical reasons but “large mirrors mounted on top to provide sunlight.

Pneumocell has been designing “inflatable structures inspired by biological cells.” The inflatable structure concept is tailor made for Moon use because of the lack of atmosphere and low gravity. Mars is equally suitable for their concepts.

They drew it all up and came up with some nifty presentation drawings which they turned in to the European Space Agency’s Open Space Innovation Platform. “PneumoPlanet” includes “a design for a lunar habitat on two regions located on the Moon’s south and north poles.

They picked those homestead sites for the habitat design because “these sites offer optimal illumination conditions.” Not only that, they’re close by some permanently shadowed regions, “which have a high probability to contain near surface water ice.

The greenhouses structures would serve double duty as living areas. The team is working on an Earth based prototype to “see how well it performs before taking a bunch of inflatable houses on a trip to the lunar surface.


Must be lightweight

The shipping cost to deliver building materials to the Moon means that anything boosted up the gravity well must be light. Using raw materials already at hand on the Lunar surface is a must. Not only does the gear have to be compact and light, the habitat needs to be “easily assembled once these materials reach the lunar surface and the structure must have a tight airlock.

It’s not easy to use tools when you’re wearing a space suit, even in one-sixth gravity. The air produced and recycled through the greenhouses provides the pressure to keep them inflated. The plants provide food for inhabitants as well as scrubbing the air.

While highly efficient, “the habitat should operate self-sufficiently in the long term by producing and recycling its own oxygen and food inside large greenhouses and almost exclusively by using solar irradiation power.” They’ll have backup air and power.

Similar to the tension fabric structures gaining popularity here on Earth, “PneumoPlanet would be transported as a prefabricated structure to the Moon and later inflated.

After the habitat is pressurized, the domes and tunnels “would need to be covered by around 16 feet (5 meters) of lunar regolith as a form of thermal isolation between the cold temperatures on the Moon and the inside of the module, as well as to protect it from cosmic radiation.” That Moon dust is a lot more useful than Neil Armstrong ever would have imagined.

The tubes would have a 72 foot (22 meter) diameter and are “designed to connect to each other through a tunnel system, where more greenhouses can be attached as the habitat grows.

They way they figure it, “the researchers envision a lunar village with about 16 modules. On top of each module would be a tower that holds a lightweight mirror made of silver coated foil to illuminate the greenhouse. Rotating mirrors would follow the Sun through the sky, directing sunlight to an artificial crater that reflects the light through another cone-shaped mirror, spreading it through the greenhouse.

What do you think?

Written by Mark Megahan

Mark Megahan is a resident of Morristown, Arizona and aficionado of the finer things in life.

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