January 30, 2007
Inflatable habitats for Polar and Space Colonists
Inflatable dome for cold, high-latitude regions on Earth. The main figure (a) shows a cross-section of the suggested biosphere, and the small figure (b) shows a top-down view. The important components are labeled: a thin, transparent double film on the sunlit side (1), a reflective cover on the shaded side (2), control louvers (3), the entrance (5), and an air pump/ventilator (6). The direction of the Sun is indicated by beams of light (4).
Humanity has long since established a foothold in the Artic and Antarctic, but extensive colonization of these regions may soon become economically viable. If we can learn to build self-sufficient habitats in these extreme environments, similar technology could be used to live on the Moon or Mars.
In a recent article submitted to arXiv.org, Bolonkin and Cathcart have designed an inflatable, translucent dome that can heat its interior to comfortable temperatures using only the weak sunlight of high latitudes. While many details remain to be worked out, the essential concept is sound. To improve the energy efficiency of the structure, they propose adding multiple insulating layers, aluminum-coated shutters, and a fine electrical network to sense damage to the structure. The dome would be supported entirely by the pressure of the air inside, which can be adjusted to compensate for the added buoyancy caused by high winds.
The principle advantages of this design are the low weight and flexibility of the material. If only a few people at a time need shelter, an enclosure the size of a small house would weigh only about 65 kg, or as much as a person. This is light enough even for a space mission, and setting up would be as easy as turning on an air pump. For large colonies, enough membrane to enclose 200 hectares would weigh only 145 tons. The interior would be warm and sheltered, a safe environment for the construction of more traditional buildings and gardens.