DANPAL GOES TO MARS
The project is a space analog habitat for 6 Analog Astronauts. These kinds of habitats are designed to prepare for challenges humanity will face in future space exploration. They are rare. In fact, there are just a handful spread out around the world. Until now, none of them were originally designed by engineers. The issue of how to make these habitats feel like home was less discussed.
To add to the challenge, we only had 4 months from the design of the structure to the building and use by a six Analogue Astronaut team. To add some flavor to the challenge, we wanted this to be a course for students. The Technion’s Faculty of Architecture and Town Planning provided the basic setting and soon an interdisciplinary team of students from various faculties assembled for the task.
The concept was how to create a small space that would be easy to transport, could become larger when deployed and feel like home in a very unwelcoming environment.
HARNESSING THE POWER OF DAYLIGHT
As we met with the students and brainstormed, we felt we needed to introduce lightness and warm luminosity into this habitat. The connection with the outside environment via the presence of light kept coming back to each discussion.The building needed to be light so it would be easy to transport, look and feel light and would be easy to connect to.
We started with a basic module of a 15sqm shape and explored different shape typologies and how they could expand to accommodate larger spaces. The best option we came up with, together with the students that met our timing & budgetary constraints was a rectangle that we could deploy to a hexagonal shape with a space of about 50sqm.
The right wing contains the sleeping area and the control room, the left wing contains the labs, while the inner rectangle is the heart of the building and includes all the life support systems such as water and electricity, as well as common functions such as the entrance and kitchen areas. The sleeping area consists of six small capsules, Japanese Sleep Capsules, each with a bed and a space for personal belongings to give a sense of privacy and to create an intimate space for each member of the staff.
This allowed us to answer various transportation constraints and meet the habitat’s programmatic needs. From that point, we started to explore various materials for the habitat, with the skin being key issue. We wanted something that would be able to not only accommodate our climatic constraints but to introduce light in the unique way we were talking about.
Danpal answered all these needs. The system is light and easy to use. Our students and volunteers are not professional builders. With these products and techniques we could achieve this ambitious project and more. Secondly and just as importantly, we saw in Danpalon panels a product that we could keep on developing according to our progress. In fact, from the moment we received the panels from the factory we started to believe we could build this Habitat.
THE EFFECT OF GEOGRAPHY ON DESIGN
The geography of the place has extreme importance in this case, since both the environment and the building need to act as one cohesive unit and as reliable simulation for the Astronaut team.
We also needed to ensure that the habitat would not harm the environment since this is one of Israel’s most revered and well protected national treasures, so we aimed for a light structure that could be easily deployed without harming the environment but at the same time could be resilient enough to cope with the harsh environment.
When building this type of analogue building there is always the tension between the desired environment that it is planned for and the real environment here on earth that it is located in. In many ways both the environment and the building act as a “real- fake” set design to assist the astronauts in their simulation mission.
With extreme climate in mind, such as the average temperature of around -65°c degrees on Mars and considering the high temperature at the Negev desert, we needed a skin material that would be able to handle these temperature changes and act as an effective shield to solar radiation.
CREATING THE AESTHETIC VISION WITH DANPAL PANEL
The Danpal 901 panels, in an opal soft light colour, allowed us to meet the location’s climatic challenges and was an answer to our needs as it was a light material that would not be affected by transport constraints and that introduced the very special soft & diffused light that we were looking for.
“We put a lot of emphasis on usability without compromising on comfort and a sense of home,” explains Shikar
Has the material worked in the way you expected in your original expectations?
Yes and even more so. The different looks during the day and with artificial lighting at night are a great bonus surprise that we absolutely relish.
We also found that we can fill the panels with water, increasing their solar absorption capabilities. This was just a test that we were unable to explore due to time constraints but would love to in the future.