Just before writing this article, a major event in human space exploration took place – NASA flew successfully a small helicopter on Mars. That is right! On 19 April 2021, NASA’s Ingenuity, or Ginny, became the first aircraft in history to make a powered, controlled flight on another planet. Even though the flight continued for less than a minute, it is regarded as major progress for planetary exploration.
Our teams were curious to know more about space missions and in order to promote feasible and sustainable space exploration, Cobuilder organised an 8-hour internal hackathon to find out how our software would work in space and how it could help to build on Mars. As our CTO, Ivan Goychev, said “buildings are buildings even in space!” and we need consistency and safety for the structures we build everywhere, even for low gravity environment. Take a deep dive with us and learn more about our teams’ findings during “Cobuilder Space Hackathon 2021”.
Cobuilder’s Space Hackathon Team
But first, what are the challenges of building on Mars?
Many governmental agencies and private companies such as NASA and SpaceX are looking to the next big space revolution – building on Mars. NASA’s Centennial Challenges: 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge aims to choose the best projects from companies and building experts in the domain.
Building a settlement on Mars, where no human has been before, carries some serious challenges:
- Travel time Earth – Mars current rocket technology – 7 months for a one-way trip.
- Mars environment is quite hostile – surface temperatures vary from –153ºC to 20ºC and the Sun radiation is 5 000 times stronger.
- Mars has specific soil called Regolith – famous for its red colour and sandy structure.
- It is very expensive to bring heavy construction objects on Mars as the current price is about $200 000 aimed to be $130 per kilogram.
- Human labour on the planet would be a big challenge, so the building process should be done by robots that have limited possibilities.
After we have seen a small fraction of the obstacles that the human’s construction industry faces on Mars, let’s take a look at what Cobuilder experts have found out.
Hackathon Finding #1: A Collaborative building platform and space requirements data templates for companies and machines
Cobuilder’s team has explored in detail the different needs and phases of construction based on the real facts of the scientific findings and technology developments in space. We have realized that data and standardized information flow is an absolute must to succeed in testing and exploitation phases.
There are many challenges to overcome ahead of the building process on the Red planet and this would require very high precision. Cobuilder’s team has considered that data will be key.
Two main phases are necessary to ensure better preparation:
- Conception and Testing phase:
- While the Regolith soil is believed a material suitable for on-site building, the engineering teams should experiment with different building materials that need to be conceived and tested on Earth.
- Currently, there is no Supply Chain of possible manufacturers and construction specialists. However, data and specifications would be highly necessary for a trust-based, machine-readable and standardized format. Moreover, the space construction supply chain can be created in an adapted form through a collaborative platform. This platform will be able to read dynamic data templates and be the appropriate tool to create and manage requests for every construction actor.
- Execution phase – Building on Mars
- Once all tests and conception phases are achieved, it will be necessary to ensure a successful building process by robots.
- Any type of constructions would have a better chance of longer exploitation and correct maintenance if they are able to transmit data. On Earth will exist a Digital twin which will allow researchers and engineers to collect and analyse data.
Data is needed on every stage of the construction project on Mars. With the help of Data templates, the project leaders will be able to create trust-based, machine-readable and standardized construction objects information. That will be required for conception, execution and maintenance with the help of telemetric indicators transmitting data to a digital twin for better accuracy. Data is important for testing and real project application.
Collaboration is very important for the project success through an integrated solution that will allow coordinated actions from each member based on data and analysis. It will enable the settlement of a proper space construction supply chain to reduce time and costs.
Hackathon Finding #2: Interconnected Location-based Data Sheets (LBDS) to support construction on Mars
Creating a common language for all stakeholders involved in a typical building process is of key importance. Scientists, exploring robots, shippers, manufacturers on Earth – all of them need to speak the same language to progress and ensure safety for the structures.
How is this going to happen?
Cobuilder can provide generic Data Templates to those who will explore the Red Planet (similar to what Ingenuity does). After collecting valuable data such as the structural properties of the Martian soil, radiation, seismic activity and more, this information will be filled out into Location-based Data Sheets, related to a hexagon map of the Martian surface. This information will be stored in a cloud and will be easy to access and analyse. Moreover, it will allow the development of digital geological and geographical twin back on our home planet.
Thus, manufacturers on Earth will know the strict requirements their products must fulfil to endure the harsh Martian environment. The Location-based Data Sheets will carry valuable information about the materials that could be supplied from the Martian surface itself – imagine Martian-made concrete or “MarsCrete”. This information will be visualised in a hexagon map and when the users click on each hexagon, they will know whether the area is compliable with the building or not.
Take a look at the 360virtual tour of Mars where you will see the Data Template methodology linked to a 360 platform.
And that is not all! Using a new module on Cobuilder existing platform will allow users to create, store and use complex property links. The links represent a dynamic parametrization between the values of the properties, based on formulas, functions and other correlations. In other words, when one property is changed, the users will see how other properties in other Templates are affected.
Once we have those links set, they could be used to dynamically adapt the designs, the requirements and the products.
In our current world, we have proved the need for correct data and collaboration at every stage of a project. Our reality, however still analogue in many aspects of life, is being digitized in more performant systems as we speak. The goal behind is to provide science with higher precision and trustworthy information that will be processed by machines instantly. For us people, there is an infinite possibility of creativity and technological progress to explore for a better-built world.