Rhizome: Development of an Autarkic Design-to-Robotic-Production and -Operation System for Building Off-Earth Habitats


Year: 2020-2022
Project leader: Henriette Bier
Project team RB: Henriette Bier, Max Latour, Vera Laszlo and MSc students
Collaborators / Partners:  AE, 3ME, and CiTG from TUD, 3D Robot Printing, KitePower, and ESA
Funding: 100K from ESA


In order for off-Earth top surface structures built from regolith to protect astronauts from radiation, they need to be several meters thick. TUD proposes to create subsurface habitats to achieve natural protection from radiation as well as thermal insulation because the temperature is more stable underground.
The idea is that a swarm of autonomous mobile robots developed at TUD (https://tudelftroboticsinstitute.nl/robots/zebro). Regolith-based concrete is 3D printed to create a structure in an empty lava tube. The approach relies on Design-to-Robotic-Production and -Operation (D2RP&O) technology developed at TUD (http://www.roboticbuilding.eu/project/scalable-porosity/). The rhizomatic 3D printed structure is a structurally optimized porous structure with increased insulation properties. In order to regulate the indoor pressurized environment an inflatable structure is placed in the 3D printed structure. Similar to the regolith-based concrete, the inflatable structure is made of materials, which can be reproduced on Mars through ISRU. The habitat and the production system are powered by the automated kite-power system (on Mars) and solar panels developed at TUD (http://www.kitepower.eu/home.html, etc.). The ultimate goal is to develop an autarkic D2RP&O system for building off-earth subsurface autarkic habitats from locally obtained materials.

The project is based on the idea submitted on the ESA's Open Space Innovation Platform (http://www.esa.int/Enabling_Support/Preparing_for_the_Future/Discovery_and_Preparation/ Implemented_OSIP_ideas_December_2020) with a team consisting of Dr. Henriette Bier (architecture: RB), Dr. Roland Schmehl (aerospace: wind energy), Dr. Angelo Cervone (aerospace: space systems engineering), MSc. Arwin Hidding (architecture: RB), MSc. Arise Wan (architecture: RB), MSc-cand. Edwin Vermeer (architecture: RB), BSc-cand. Maneesh Verma (aerospace: swarm robots), MSc-cand. Krishna Jani (architecture: RB), MSc-cand. Emma Chris Avramiea (architecture: RB), and MSc-cand. Siddharth Popatlal Jain (architecture: RB).

(Read more) http://cs.roboticbuilding.eu/index.php/Shared:2019Final

The additive D2RP process currently explored in laboratory setup using clay, silicon and thermoplastic elastomers represents the basis for the 3D printing approach with regolith-based concrete that is employed in this project. The regolith simulant, MGS-1, chosen for its availability, similar composition to 'global' basaltic soil composition, and also cheap price when ordered from https://exolithsimulants.com/collections/regolith-simulants is mixed with cement, which can be produced on Mars but infrastructure for producing it needs to be already in place (leaving the question of what would be the first structure built from open).

The printed structure is, preferably, a compression only i.e. shell structure otherwise the material has to be reinforced with fibbers. It is a structurally optimized porous structure, which has increased insulation properties requires less material, and minimizes the printing time. The assumption that porous materials have improved insulation properties is based on experiments implemented with ceramic clay at TUD. Expected increased insulation of porous regolith-based concrete are assessed and justified by implementing numerical simulations and experimental testing.