Steel-suspended space lab will mimic lunar environment

by Hans Diederichs

A pioneering space technology research campus, which will be used as a test field for a consortium of global tech companies, is due to break ground in Japan in 2020. The project is a partnership between ANA Holdings Inc. and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) – both experts at launching vehicles into the atmosphere – and is part of Avatar X, a collaborative program for the advancement of space exploration and development.

Avatar X has identified three areas that will benefit from the campus’ research: remote construction in space, operation and maintenance of space stations and facilities from Earth, and space-based entertainment and travel for the general public.

Oita is a coastal prefecture on Japan’s Kyushu Island, and the former mining site already resembles the lunar surface. The new campus will consist of several buildings as well as a moon simulation terrain, which will be used to experiment with the remote semi-autonomous construction of lunar surface habitats using avatar robots.

Clouds Architecture Office – a New York firm known for the Staten Island 9/11 memorial, and for working with Nasa to develop the Mars Ice Home – has completed concept designs for a masterplan and three buildings at the Oita campus: a research and development centre, a moon environment simulator, and the Avatar X lab building, which will be situated at the heart of the campus floating above a moon-like crater.

The cutting-edge research facility will be formed from semi-opaque and transparent panels of fluoropolymer membrane wrapped around a steel frame. Partitions will be made of carbon fibre, with honeycomb floor plates and fibre-reinforced plastic trims all designed to reduce weight.

Project team member and Associate Professor at the University of Tokyo, structural engineer Jun Sato, explains the design further: “The overall structure looks like the wheel of a bicycle, which is laid onto the crater, and the building itself forms the central hub and is supported on steel cable ‘spokes’, forming a ‘tensegrity’ structure. Here, a set of compression elements are opposed and balanced by a continuous tensile force, creating internal prestress that stabilises the entire structure.  The spindle-type steel hub is a double quadrangular pyramid, 40 metres high, with a convex frame that can work as compression elements so that some beams inside this hub can be tension elements, and the structure becomes lightweight.”

The project is moving forward into the next phase, with construction expected to start in 2020, when the chosen site will be excavated and shaped to look like a crater on the moon.

For the structural calculations of the Avatar X lab building we should consider gravity, horizontal and vertical vibration due to earthquakes and wind, soft ground conditions and thermal shrinkage of the cables,” says Jun Sato. “I propose to insert leaf springs on the edges of the cables – something which is commonly used for the suspension in wheeled vehicles.”

Avatar X hopes to begin testing avatars in Low-Earth Orbit in the mid-2020s, and the other-worldly robotics research lab will certainly be a unique symbol, representing the leading edge of technological development, which will help humans to live and work in space.


Source: worldsteel /Debbie Jefferey /Photo: Clouds Architecture Office

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