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Mars NASA Space

An Ice House Design Concept For Mars Bets Long On Liquid Water 63

The Times of India reports that NASA has awarded a $25,000 first prize to Space Exploration Architecture for their design, called "Mars Ice House," of a habitat suitable for Mars. The concept relies on the (predicted) availability of Martian water, as well as on 3-D printing; according to the text accompanying the design. The 5-cm thick shell of ice which would serve as both skin and support structure for the shelter "protects against radiation without compromising life above ground." Two other teams (Gamma and LavaHive) were awarded second and third-place prizes, respectively.
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An Ice House Design Concept For Mars Bets Long On Liquid Water

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  • It's called an Igloo on Earth, why change the name?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 05, 2015 @07:52AM (#50660407)

    That will happen even if the temperature is well below freezing.

    There is a reason the water ice is covered up by dust... It blocks the UV causing sublimation.

    • I was thinking the same thing. But how long would it take for that to happen? Also, if you have a supply of water, you could just spray on a fresh coat every couple of years.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by donkeyb ( 965462 )
      UV doesn't cause sublimation - it's the fact that the atmospheric pressure is so low that the water undergoes phase transition to the gaseous form pretty much immediately - it's at this point that the high levels of UV disassociate the water vapour into its constituent atoms. The water that has been found recently on Mars is able to survive as water due to the presence of perchlorates in the water which increase its tolerance to low temperatures and pressures. It stand to reason that any ice made from this
    • I know the webpage was a bit tough to read, but they do say how they propose to combat that: via a thin membrane.

      A transparent and fully closed ETFE membrane reinforced with tensile Dyneema is deployed from the lander and inflated to form a pressurized boundary between the lander and the Martian exterior. This membrane, precision manufactured on Earth, is critical protection for the future ice shell, preventing any printed ice from sublimating into the atmosphere.

      • by Rei ( 128717 )

        EFTE is considered nonstick, as is common among fluorinated polymers - will ice even bond with it? Plus, "thin plastic membrane" and "unfiltered UV radiation", "ionizing radiation", "blowing perchlorate-rich dust", etc doesn't sound like a good combination. EFTE is considered resistant to UV degradation, but I have to question how long any thin film would last on an environment like Mars.

        Not saying it's a bad concept, but it's definitely a concept that's not ready for prime-time as it stands.

        • I say that they can go a little beyond in the basic idea of using local resources. What about landing your housing module, wrap it with a layer of ice in the shape of an igloo (for structural strength and protection against radiation) and then cover with a bit of soil to protect the whole of sublimation? You do not even really need precision (even a mere stack of material would do the job).
      • by Rob Riggs ( 6418 )

        "Precision manufactured?" The big question is: can it be repaired with duct tape?

        • I saw a documentary showing a Mars explorer doing just that over the weekend. Unfortunately, that very scene had some odd effects that would not happen, such as the Martian atmosphere pushing on the repaired section.

  • by TheDarkMaster ( 1292526 ) on Monday October 05, 2015 @07:53AM (#50660411)
    Why every designer insists on difficult and impractical structures to build? Why not use something way simpler to build like a larger version of an igloo [wikipedia.org]?
    • by JaredOfEuropa ( 526365 ) on Monday October 05, 2015 @08:01AM (#50660447) Journal
      That's just how they roll. This team has applied the same difficult and impractical design to their website as well, it seems.
      • There ought to be a different name for "websites" that are obviously designed for smartphone users. Too bad such an interesting idea has such a crappy presentation.

      • by jbengt ( 874751 )
        This, exactly. I clicked on the link and got a shiny splash page with almost no information in it, other than a pretty picture. I clicked on the next page, and got what appeared to be another shiny splash page without any information in it. I refuse to go any farther when I encounter that sort of useless garbage.
    • I think you may have some misunderstanding about what is simpler:
      1) Dig up ice, melt it, spray in freezing cold air to make snow (what, you thought there was snow on Mars?), gather snow and pack it into cubes, stack cubes into structure, stack lots more cubes to attain the thickness needed to block radiation (5cm ice equates to 50 cm of snow, after all).

      2) Dig up ice, melt it, use 3D printer to print a structure made of solid ice.

      • I'm sorry but it was you who did not understand me. I was talking about how to build, not necessarily have to be of "snow". Nothing would stop me to produce ice blocks and build with them a simpler (K.I.S.S.) geometric shape (the igloo) and in a way that does not require the use of complicated apparatuses such as a 3D printer (you can use your own hands or a simple winch).
        • by Reibisch ( 1261448 ) on Monday October 05, 2015 @09:42AM (#50660871)

          I'm sorry but it was you who did not understand me. I was talking about how to build, not necessarily have to be of "snow". Nothing would stop me to produce ice blocks and build with them a simpler (K.I.S.S.) geometric shape (the igloo) and in a way that does not require the use of complicated apparatuses such as a 3D printer (you can use your own hands or a simple winch).

          The concept relies on an autonomous lander arriving well in advance of any inhabitants in order to build their habitat.

          I'm not saying that makes their approach any easier or harder, just that relying on an automated construction process allows integrity verification prior to sending anyone.

          Also, so you're aware: the contest required use of 3D printing, not wrenches and hands. Again, not a judgement on which is better, but it's important to understand the constraints involved here.

    • The third place design looked very workable.

  • Just chip off a side of the wall so you have something to put in your whisky.

    • This documentary about a guy in a blue box that flies around told me that you shouldn't drink the water on Mars as it will cause you to spew water out of your mouth uncontrollably.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Unless their ICE house is going to be in constant shadow, there is risk of it vaporizing off from sunlight, even at those low temps. In addition, there is no way to maintain it reliably, and if there is life on mars and in the ice, there would be a constant threat of biological contamination, of which humans have no resistance to. I can go on and on.

    Overall this is dumb. They need to come up with a martian concrete.

  • Icehouse was an Australian band in the 80's, known for the hit single 'Great Southern Land'

  • Even though Mars is cold the ultra low atmospheric pressure will increase the rate of sublimation for the exterior. Sublimation is direct solid->gas phase change. It's the reason snow piles will get smaller even when the outdoor temps never rise above freezing.

    • Sublimation is the reason there is no ice on the surface of mars, the atmosphere is near vaccum in comparison to earth pressures. Ice cannot survive on the surface of mars. This ice house would like sublimate before you finished building it.

  • won't it be quickly covered by dust eliminating the advantage of that portion of the design? I imagine cleaning the outer coating regularly during or after every martian sandstorm would be a pain in the butt.

  • This is why we can't get an astronaut into space anymore.
  • 3D printing and Mars in the same story? I can't even.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Private space too! Oh I have such a chubby right now!!!

  • This design has a problem. The tensile strength of ice is not high enough to contain the required 12psi in a dome of the size described. I suppose you could run it at a lower pressure but then going EVA suite less would not be possible. The interior would have to be maintained below freezing to ensure structural integrity. Building it would provide shielding but not a comfortable environment for working. A better solution would be a frozen water dome about 25 ft thick.Then 12psi pressure could be maintaine
    • by phayes ( 202222 )

      "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt." - Abraham Lincoln

      Their website explicitly addresses the tensile strength of Ice:
      A fibrous clear silica additive (flat-packed in the lander) provides the ice form with greater tensile strength, calculated to bolster the strength of ice to the order of 3 times. While ice has been shown to possess tensile properties (~2-3 MPa) that are, in fact, superior to materials such as brick (2.8 MPa) and granite (4.8 MPa), the fibrou

  • I get the sense they're into looks rather than function. Living in the north I know just how impractical ice would be for such a critical structure. Ice cracks and leaks very easily. It does not have the compressive nor the tensile strength I would want for such a mission critical structure.

  • this is what happens when bad science fiction is taken for science. entertaining, sells copy. does nothing else.

    • by tomhath ( 637240 )
      B-b-b-but if you ignore physics and economics the idea makes perfect sense.
      • B-b-b-but if you ignore physics and economics the idea makes perfect sense.

        This applies to most stories about Mars.

        *runs for cover*

  • Can one spell "sublimation", hmmm?

  • by tehcyder ( 746570 ) on Tuesday October 06, 2015 @06:30AM (#50668781) Journal
    Presumably the raw materials will be transported by popular "ride sharing" service Uber and financed by Bitcoins?

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