Before I could begin to consider building on Ceres, I first wanted to look at what we know about Ceres, and how that would influence or dictate an architectural language. Ceres is a really interesting place, and there are many things that make it exciting to speculate for. Just a few things that we know about Ceres:
- Big enough to be round (476km radius) It also makes up 1/3 of the total mass in the asteroid belt. Roughly the size of Texas and geologically similar to the moon and other asteroids.
- Surface gravity 3% of Earth’s. 10x less than at Mars, and 1/5 what the Moon has. The escape velocity is about 0.5 km/s. What this means is that landing things on Ceres may be difficult, but launching things from, will be very easy. Also, since the gravity is so low, there may be no need for human microgravity deconditioning. The radiation environment is likely no different than in deep space flight.
- Located at 2.77 AU. So the intensity of sunlight is less than 1/7 what we have in Earth orbit (which is about 1.4 kW/m2). This is about 1/10 what you would experience in Arizona. Temperature is roughly -109 degrees C, so in comparison, Antarctica has reached temperatures as low as -93 degrees C.
- Density is only 2.1 g/cm3, between ice and rock, implying significant water content, and perhaps more freshwater than earth. Last year, observations indicated that Ceres may be outgassing via tenuous plumes. This could be evidence that there is actually a liquid water reservoir beneath an icy/rocky crust.
informational credit - Brent Sherwood
I began to look at designing on Ceres from more of a construction point of view. To be honest, I am still trying to wrap my mind around the gravitational capabilities of this planet, and just what it requires to consider. But this is good, because I will have to think outside the box when I am conceptualizing. I break this down into a few methods of going about this.
- Premise 1 - Robots are already deployed and can construct mechanical or structural tensile members from materials that are shipped to them. Robots can set all of the infrastructure in place ahead of time. Humans arrive and construct Ceres Concrete, fabrics, panels, inflatables, etc, whatever may be required to formulate this into a livable environment.
- Premise 2 - Robots are already deployed and can construct Ceres concrete and other mechanical fasteners or supports. Robots can set all of the infrastructure in place ahead of time. Humans arrive and bring with them: fabrics, panels, inflatables, etc, whatever may be required to formulate this into a livable environment.
It really comes down to, what is the actual responsibility of the robots or autonomous mechanism, and what their capabilities will be. The more they can do, in theory, the better, however there are inevitable things that will require human engineering to assemble. What we don't want to have happen is for humans to arrive, and have to build from scratch.
Follow me here for a second. Robots or autonomous mechanism are equipped with drills. Perhaps they are using GPS to designate a boundary where they can navigate to. The nodes send a signal to drill, the robot would know the proper depths to hit with its own intelligence. Next, they would be able to disperse reinforcing devices into the holes they just created. Perhaps this reinforcement deploys arms and teeth that dig into the ground. Keep in mind, it wont take much to lift these structures up. Next, robots could create mounds of Ceres dust to use as form work, and would ultimately be able to set concrete at prescribed heights. And there you have a completely robotic creation of a foundation pad that would allow whatever tension members or tensile structures to easily be bolted on and assembled when humans arrive. The tectonic arrangements would be able to vary in a wide range of possibilities. Maybe this is a stretch, but it was a start.
In my brain, this one works pretty neat. The idea is that a robot would track a trench along a designated path (perhaps guided by GPS or something similar). These robots would be able to take prefab form work panels to construct a form that allowed for angled faces to be exposed. The robot could then go back and drill and secure anchor fasteners within certain areas of the concrete. Once humans arrive, they could easily construct different ribbed combinations of tensile members in different geometric structures.
For the sake of speculation towards the future, I wanted to show where I see this potentially heading. Keep in mind, class 2 structures are still in a way not permanent architecture. Obviously colonization would be a way of speculation towards a more permanent aesthetic and tectonic system. But for a research laboratory and management positions monitoring construction and maintenance of systems, these Class 2 structures would have to anticipate the merging with the class one structures. This is important because it makes me consider the function of my class 1 pods in multiple scenarios. Launch, travel, Landing, and in a micro gravity environment.
Moving forward, I think that I need to consider more options of tectonic construction. I also think I need to begin to introduce some programmatic elements as well. This ultimately becomes a challenge of efficient phasing of construction, tectonics, adapting to human needs, and organization of site to configure construction, vehicles, resources, etc. But at the end of the day, these are workstations. There will be living quarters, obviously, but the function is to do work. My challenge is similar to that of the space station, how can I make these spaces places for living, rather than just places that protect humans from the environment.
I really do believe that this particular part of the mission will be one of the most fascinating from both and architectural view point, but from a theoretical one as well. Building on another planet is something that has been proposed many times before for many different places (mainly the moon and mars) however, Ceres presents a very different challenge. What I am discovering is that perhaps Ceres needs me thought more in terms of having no gravity at all when considering living conditions. I am going to throw out a few very interesting thoughts in hopes of provoking a bit of discussion.
Once again I want to consider all of my risk levels of design. Low risk being something pre-built, ready to go, plopped down on a site, and ready for use. To me, this is the easiest solution that once again, provides very little benefit to the human. Medium risk involves more of a tectonic approach and how best to synthesis robot construction and man made construction. It really is about looking at possibilities. Finally the high risk design is something that would be most beneficial for human researchers which would be mobility. I actually could almost see the hybrid of both a robotic/human assembled pod that these mobile research labs could dock into. We will see what I discover, but regardless this is sure to get interesting.
The first few iterations are medium risk and are actually mutations off of the previous concept of pre-built foundation and infrastructure. These concepts seek to take advantage of the near zero gravity environment that this would likely be. A committee member suggested things may likely be very tubular, and by that he meant was that these tubes did not need to be bland, boring tubes. These could be complex, rich structures that take advantage of having very little gravity effecting the body.
These tubes work vertically by being to almost effortlessly float up and lightly falling down, with some obvious handles or latches to control how fast and if there are any other directional changes. These tubes can work in a few fashions, some vertical, some horizontal, some underground.
One thing to keep in mind is that I need to consider two primary functions for programming. Remember, these are not permanent structures. These will be inhabited by crews, engineers, scientist, etc all while maintaining robots and machines, as well as continuing to determine if there is life that is detectable. I really need to consider a research environment, and a living environment and how they relate, how they function together, or how they function separate.
I don't think that vertical arrangement is the answer. Although vertical circulation seems to make some sense, I don't think structurally it makes a whole lot of sense. I imagine these things being impacted in the slightest amount and swaying like crazy. Large amounts of mass could move effortlessly on Ceres. I think horizontal structures begin to make more sense. You would have an element of vertical capabilities, but also tie downs and craters could present ways in which we could prevent the feeling of floating off, bouncing, or swaying.
There is fascinating potential for an entirely new way to circulate architecture. We take it for granted that our gravity allows us to walk and balance appropriately against a horizontal surface. However on Ceres we may be more inclined to climb, bounce, or traverse more like rock climbers. It would be almost effortless, just as walking on Earth is to us. This may even be beneficial physically as you would using more of your total body than just purely walking would. The effects of micro gravity such as this is still relatively unknown.
Lastly I considered a possibility of an all encompassing facility, that would provide habitat and research capabilities all in one large thing. Perhaps using craters as pre-excavated areas would be something to consider when devising infrastructure or foundation systems.
I finally need to get into tectonics and construction aspects of how this is built. I am considering a few options, but ultimately working within a limited pallet.