NASA has funded an approach to robot construction of a “growable” space habitat. Such construction is meant to be scaled from habitat scale up to larger colony scales.
Deep Space: Scalable Habitats for Long Distance Space Travel or for Distant Outposts
This proposal seeks to design a rotating habitat with a robotic system that constructs the structure and provides a habitat growth capability. The tensegrity technology allows minimum mass of both the habitat and the robotic system. This proposal solves three unsolved space travel problems: a) growth, b) radiation protection, and c) gravity. Our innovative tensegrity-based evolvable habitat designs will solve three critical technical problems that NASA must address: the biological effects of microgravity on humans in long duration space flight, the long duration biological effects of ionizing radiation on human physiology in deep space (beyond the Earth’s magnetosphere) and, the need for outposts in deep space to evolve dynamically over time as mission needs grow. __ http://www.nasa.gov/feature/tensegrity-approaches-to-in-space-construction-of-a-1g-growable-habitat
This system allows for a habitat to be expanded while protecting inhabitants from radiation and providing artificial gravity to prevent degeneration of human musculoskeletal and organ systems.
In situ asteroid and comet resources are intended to be long-term sources of building mass and life support materials, as human space expands beyond the cis-lunar and inner solar systems.
PDF overview of tensegrity system for robotic construction of “growable” shielded and rotating space habitats —> colonies —-> outposts —-> generation ships.
Moving Beyond the Tin Can ISS Rut
The current human space station, ISS, is an overpriced mish-mash of variable quality component modules, which is rapidly reaching its design limits. Inflatable space stations and habitats — as envisioned by Bigelow — provide the potential for a more scalable, inexpensive, lightweight, and more widely applicable space habitat / colony. But for larger and more truly scalable habitats / long-distance spaceships / outposts, better methods of construction will need to be implemented. The “tensegrity approaches” represent one possible move in that direction.
Outer space is a perfect environment for showcasing the strengths of robotic mining, construction, and maintenance.