Self-Assembling and Self-Regulating Space Stations: Mission Concepts for Modular, Autonomous Habitats



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50th International Conference on Environmental Systems


The field of space architecture must contend not only with the environmental challenges of operating in the vacuum, but also with constrained physical dimensions in rocket payload fairings, risky astronaut space-walks, and limited robotic mobility for assembly. To address these challenges, we propose a new construction paradigm�one that moves beyond aluminum cylinders in orbit to build towards larger volume, modular space stations that still meet the mandates of life support systems and safety. Our TESSERAE (Tessellated Electromagnetic Space Structures for the Exploration of Reconfigurable, Adaptive Environments) research platform builds on principles from biomimicry: self-assembly from discrete nodes following a certain �coded� growth pattern. We also introduce redundant and reconfigurable parts for robustness and adaptability. Our work focuses on autonomously self-assembling and self-regulating space structures, without requiring a human EVA or robotic agent. Overall, the TESSERAE hardware platform includes a series of functions for self-aware self-assembly and maintenance that allow for in-space construction and reconfigurability of orbiting, multi-module space architecture. Our research platform integrates magnetic docking, sensor technology and control code to bond common base units into modular structures. An early, miniaturized hardware testbed for this platform was deployed successfully on the ISS over 30 days in 2020 and is slated for further missions. Our paper for ICES 2021 presents a vision for integrating this structural, in-space self-assembly with interior livability, including a new ECLSS integration plan for the modular structures. We also point forward to a dual mission concept for TESSERAE, merging A) microgravity self-assembly and in-orbit operation with B) the ability to self-disassemble and re-purpose structural tiles for use on a planetary surface.


Ariel Ekblaw, MIT
Joe Paradiso, MIT
David Zuniga, Axiom Space
Keith Crooker, Axiom Space
ICES506: Human Exploration Beyond Low Earth Orbit: Missions and Technologies
The 50th International Conference on Environmental Systems was held virtually on 12 July 2021 through 14 July 2021.


space architecture, modular space structures, self-assembly, self-regulation, autonomy, ECLSS, reconfigurability