SOM advancing moon village research with European Space Agency

By Daniel Brightmore
Architects Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM) has signed a Memorandum of Collaboration (MOC) with theEuropean Space Agency(ESA) to expand research into...

Architects Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM) has signed a Memorandum of Collaboration (MOC) with the European Space Agency (ESA) to expand research into long-term Moon habitation.

The announcement was signed by Colin Koop, Design Partner at SOM, and Johann-Dietrich Wörner, Director General of ESA.

“The cooperation between ESA and a global company such as SOM is a very good example of the spirit of the Moon Village concept: an alliance between private and public, space and non-space entities that will enable going forward to the Moon in an inclusive and sustainable manner,” said Wörner.

Since 2018, SOM has been in partnership with ESA and faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to develop the concept for Moon Village, a multi-partner open concept, as a framework for the first permanent settlement on the lunar surface. The large-scale, integrated development is envisioned near the Moon’s South Pole, with large habitation modules with inflatable structural shell technology emplaced on the rim of Shackleton Crater.

The MOC will build on this existing partnership by introducing a new study within ESA’s Concurrent Design Facility (CDF), to focus on the development of the settlement’s habitat modules. Upon its completion, the study will be made public, with the goal of inspiring technological developments related to long-term and sustainable exploration of the lunar and Martian surfaces.

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“Our partnership with ESA represents a new way of approaching the industry’s most complex problems,” said Koop. “We’re thrilled to celebrate this milestone, which will take our collaboration to the next level. Together, we are creating a new kind of architecture - one that can sustain human activity in a place that was, up until now, considered uninhabitable.”

The settlement is designed to withstand the extreme conditions of a lunar environment, with a central focus on self-sufficiency and resiliency. The site at the South Pole on the Moon receives near-continuous daylight throughout the lunar year, to help the settlement harness energy and set up the required life support systems, as well as in situ resource utilization (ISRU) experiments, which could generate useful elements using the Moon’s natural resources. Water-ice deposits nearby could be extracted to produce breathable air and rocket propellant for transportation and industrial activities. Clusters of modules would be connected to enable easy mobility between structures, with communications towers located on the highest ridges of the terrain. 

The pressurized, four-level habitat modules can house four to six people and feature systems such as environmental controls and life support systems, logistics management, scientific workstations, and a robotic control station. The structural design is a hybrid system comprising two key elements: a rigid composite frame composed of three columns; and an inflatable structural shell. Unlike other inflatable designs, which centre structural and mechanical systems, this solution creates an interior that is free and open.

The Moon Village concept is distinctly interdisciplinary. SOM is master planning, designing, and engineering the settlement; ESA is providing expertise from the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) and the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) and from its Headquarters; and faculty members from MIT's Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics are providing expertise.

 

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