H.O.M.E. Lab

Hexaonal Open Modular Environment Laboratory

Created on 2018.05.09 198 views
H.O.M.E. (Hexagonal Open Modular Environment) Lab is a Mars analog habitat for human spaceflight to the Red Planet, designed pursuing standards of high liveability and implementing principles of layout modularity. The project was developed for the International NASA Space Apps Challenge 2017 competition and it won the Best Mission Concept Top 5 Global Award. The CAD model of the laboratory has been realized by using the CATIA software. In particular, a bottom up philosophy has been adopted to obtain the final structure. In fact, each member of the team designed one of the room as a unique CATIA part file, and then they have been assemblied together in the CATIA product environment. Finally, the renderings showed in the video have been realized by importing the CATIA model into KeyShot software.  


In the last years, NASA and other space organizations realized many tests to simulate an extraterrestrial environment on Earth and to experiment efficient ways of cohabitation.  Examples of this are MDRS (Mars Desert Research Station) from the Mars Society and HI-SEASfrom NASA. What emerged from these experiments, as well from psychological studies on astronauts of ISS, is that the stress of being in an enclosed space with a small group of people for a long period can result in numerous problems, such as cognitive decline, depression and interpersonal conflicts. For this reason, we found in this challenge an important problem to solve in order to allow in the next decades mankind to colonize other planets. Therefore, we designed our own research base, H.O.M.E. Lab, pursuing not only the objective of granting its inhabitants a high liveability, but also trying to develop a structure easy to expand and remodulate and based on principles of environmentally friendliness and self-sustainability.  



H.O.M.E. (Hexagonal Open Modular Environment) Lab is an innovative solution for an isolated research base.   It is a honeycomb-structure hab, divided into different hexagonal compartment modules. H.O.M.E. is designed to grant people inside it a comfortable place to stay and to be easy to set-up and expand, while being totally green. In fact, its key feature are:
  • high index of liveability for 6 people;
  • designed to reduce psychological stress;
  • easy to set-up structure and possibility to add new modules or change the current configuration at any time;
  • adoption of eco-friendly solution for heating, power source and waste management.
According to these feature, our basic habitat, for 6 people, is made up of:
  • 6 personal rooms
  • 1 laboratory (divided into a clean room and a dirty room)
  • 1 clinic room
  • 2 bathrooms
  • 1 open space in the centre, containing a living room, a kitchen and a relax room.

The hexagonal layout

In order to increase the index of liveability of the current solutions for isolated research station, spaces need to be optimized. In fact, one of the things that immediately pop out at you if you look for example at HI-SEAS interiors, is how small personal rooms are. However, by using a highly optimized layout, you can have a hab with the same functions of the currently studied ones but with more space for personal rooms, which is a key factor to reduce psychological stress of the crew. To find the best layout, we looked at nature, which, through thousand years of evolution, had already found the answer: the hexagon! In fact, if you look at a honeybees' hive, you will find out that they use hexagonal cells. The hive is one of the most important aspect of honeybees life; in fact it is not only their home but also a place to store their honey. Since it is so central to survive, through evolution honeybees perfectioned the architectural design of the hive and now every piece of a honeycomb is made up of tightly packed hexagonal cells. Why do honeybees choose this one of all the possible designs? Bees need space efficiency to store the maximum quantity of honey in the least space, and their design must allow them to store the largest possible amount of honey using the least amount of wax (because producing it needs a lot of honey). The best geometrical figure to achieve the maximum space with the minimum perimeter (and therefore with minimal material too) would be the circle. However, this design would have a problem in the small gaps between the cells, that would be wasted space. Excluding the circle, different configurations can be considered. The one that use the minimum amount of material and grant the maximum space results to be the hexagon (in fact, it looks more like the circle than the others do). Probably bees tried different configurations before that the honeycomb resulted to be the best solutions over long periods of evolutionary history. Nowadays, this has even been mathematically demonstrated by Hales [1]. Since this solution resulted to pay off for bees, we decided to adopt it for our H.O.M.E. too.

The hexagonal cell

H.O.M.E Lab is a modular environment whose basic unit is a hexagonal cell, called HEX(HEXagonal elementary cell). An HEX is made up of four elements:
  • a base,
  • six angular brackets,
  • six removable and replaceable panels,
  • a roof,
Each side of the HEX is 6.10 foot and each HEX is 96,9 square-foot. The following gif shows a solution for a basic HEX assembly:   Different kind of HEXes can be designed according to the roof project. In particular, we have designed two HEXes:
  • the W-HEX (Water HEX), whose roof consists in a water tank for water supply
  • the P-HEX (Power HEX), whose roof consists in a solar panel for power supply
In the pictures you can see rendering of a P-HEX and its assembly. As for materials, different solutions could be adopted. The best one would be biocomposites, which can be used alone or as a complement to standard materials, such as carbon fiber, because of their great benefits (renewable, cheap, recyclable and biodegradable) [2]. In particular, they could be used alone for the base and with carbon fiber reinforcement for the angular brackets to grant a good absorption capacity of the loads. Panels could be made of biocomposites too, with a layer of thermal insulating material too if needed because of the location, or they could be made with transparent glass to create some windows on the outdoor environment.  
    An HEX is characterized by multiple functions on its own:
    • cable radio to spread sounds into the cell;
    • ambient condition monitoring;
    • ventilation ducts;
    • solar panels on the top, to power these basic functions, in case of P-HEX
    • water tank to store rain water, in case of W-HEX
    Inside the base there is a support structure made up of six independent pistons to make the HEX adaptable to different kind of terrains. Moreover, the pistons can guarantee the seismic isolation of the structure.
    BEe Team aims to introduce a new concept of "open design" with HEX. In fact, HEX CAD models are completely open-source and they can be found on our Git Hub Repository. Everyone can therefore contribute to optimize our project by suggesting ways to make this structure better or even by proposing new typologies of HEXes. In the future, we plan to develop a dedicated HEX design app to give even 3D-modeling beginners the chance to design their HEX.

    The basic layout

      In this picture, it is shown the basic layout that we designed according to NASA challenge requirements. It is designed for 6 people and it contains all the elements requested by the challenge. In total, there are 10 rooms, made with 14 cells (6 cells for the personal rooms, one for each, 2 cells for the lab, 1 cell for the bathrooms, 1 cell for the clinic room, 4 cells for the open space) for a total of 1357 square-feets. Let's see each space in detail.
    Each personal room is made of an HEX, hence it is 96,9 square-foot. It is quite big for a room of an isolated research lab, but this makes the structure compatible with the minimum required to have a personal room qualified as liveable. Considering an average sleeping time of 7 hours, the users of the H.O.M.E. Lab will spend at least more than a quarter of their entire day in these rooms, that is why we gave them a particular attention.   Beds are foldaway in a wardrobe structure, so that users can close them if they want to stay in their room to work alone or if they just want to relax a bit in a more spacious environment. As for the furnitures they are designed on a side to optimize space, on the other to keep the inhabitant comfortable and to make him feel like at home (for example preferring round-shaped geometries)
    The laboratory is made up of two HEXes, therefore it is 193,8 square-foot. It is divided into two areas, a dirty room and a clean room. The latter is separated from the first through a decontamination chamber. The dirty room of the lab is primarily designed for geological analysis while the clean roomfor biological analysis. The laboratory is equipped with all the tools that a scientist may need: test tubes, microscopes, scales, capes, workbenches with drawers.
    The configuration of H.O.M.E. Lab designed for the Space Apps Challenge, with 6 people, is equipped with 2 bathroom. Each bathroom is half an HEX, so it is 48,5 square-foot. The bathrooms contain all the typical services of this kind of room: a sink, a towel, a WC and a shower.
    The clinic room is contained in a HEX, so it is 96,9 square-foot. Its primarily function is to contain the clinic station. The clinic station is based upon the VSS, Virtual Space Station, developed for the ISS [3] but already tested in the HI-SEAS [4]. It is a system to monitor the psychological and physical data of the crew and it consists in a set of interactive multi-media programs to explore behavioural problems and feelings. It can help the user recognize and effectively manage depression and similar psychosocial problems and it is a self-guided treatment. The VSS uses an established behavioural-treatment approach known as problem-solving therapy. Let's see how it would work as it is explained in [3]. "The depressed researcher sits in front of a computer and he is guided through a series of steps by a pre-recorded voice and an image of a psychologist. Then, the crewmember is instructed to make a list of measurable problems they are experiencing before choosing one problem from the list that has a reasonable likelihood of being solved and to create a goal that solves the problem. With the help of the computer, the crewmember chooses an action that will solve the problem." It is a step-by-step process in which the computer just facilitates the crewmember's own problem-solving behaviour. However, the depression treatment is just an example of the VSS power. Even if you are just tired or you do not have anyone to talk with at the moment, you can log onto the VSS and the program will find a way to make you feel better. The VSS will be connected to the medical equipment contained in the clinic room to gather all the needed physical data while the psychological data will be collected through VSS programs.
    In the centre of the structure there is an open space containing a living room, a kitchen and a recreation area. All this space is made up of four HEXes, therefore it is 388 square-foots. This area contains:
    • a kitchen with a shelf,
    • closets for food supplies,
    • home appliances,
    • a work desk with integrated PCs which can turn into a dining table by flipping the monitors of the PCs
    • a relax zone with a sofa, a simil-grass carpet and a led television
    • an exercise zone with resealeable speedwalks and exercise bikes.

    Layout flexibility

    One of the main feature of H.O.M.E. Lab is its layout flexibility. The hexagonal modularity allows adding new cells or re-organizing the existing ones to develop different hab dispositions. This way, different configurations can be designed to better suit the ground where the hab will be built and to make the cohabitation less stressing and more efficient. An example of a different configuration may be the following one:   For example, for an application on Mars, a greenhouse may be needed to produce locally food and oxygen. Thanks to H.O.M.E. modularity, it would be enough to add two or three HEXes to the H.O.M.E. basic structure and put the greenhouse in them.  

    Environmental sustainability

    Another important feature of our solution is its environmental sustainability. It is obtained with many solutions.
    H.O.M.E. Lab implements electrical and air-conditioning systems by solar panels. In particular, cold air-conditioning is produced with the solar cooling (or solar air) technology, whose operating scheme is shown in the picture. The panels absorb sun radiation and transfer heat to a fluid, water or air, which feeds and supplies energy to refrigeration machines used to cool rooms or produce cold water [5].   Solar energy for the solar cooling and even to power all the tools requiring energy put inside the H.O.M.E. Lab is granted by additional solar panels put outside the structure, for example in this way:  
    Bike-washing machines are arranged in the living room. They are a particular rework of the typical exercise bike where the energy produced by the user's physical activities is used to power a washing machine put in the bottom of the bike, as shown in the picture:   This way not only there is more energy production, even if the energy produced this way is just a little, but there is also an optimization of spaces because there is no need to a washing machine.
    The problem of the waste management is solved using two devices tested on the ISS, the HEHO-PMWC and the UPA.
    • HEHO-PMWC (High Efficiency Output Plastic Melt Waste Compactor) is a disposal compactor, which transforms waste into thin disk. It uses heat melt compaction to remove nearly 100% of water from trash and reduces the volume by up to 11 times. It melts plastic in the trash encapsulating it into a 16 inch square tile, approximately 1/2 inch thick. This device allows to store the trash efficiently. [6]
    • UPA (Urine Processor Assembly), shown in the following picture, is a device that extracts water from urine and excrement. [7]

    User-friendly environment

    Our hab is designed to prevent the psychological stress in the crew through many different solutions. 
    Medical studies showed how the interior colours of a room can have an impact on the people's mood. [8] That is why we made every different room of a unique specific colour according to its purpose:
    • living room: orange, because it is the colour of happiness and innovation and it attracts attention and create energy but doesn't stir overwhelming feelings like red;
    • clinic room and laboratory: green, because it is a neutral colour, associated with nature, that has a calming effect on the senses;
    • personal rooms: light blue, because it is a colour that transmit calm, force and responsibility and it has a relaxing effect.
    Medical studies showed that listening to music can enhance people attentiveness [9] so playing sometimes a proper background music can be a good solution to optimize the productivity of the people inside the hab and it can be used also for recreative purpose. The music can be played into each HEX through its cable radio.
    Having an animal companion during an isolated permanence in H.O.M.E. for a long period can be very helpful. Firstly, it is has been shown how HAI (Human-Animal Interactions) can give people benefits in terms of social behaviour, interpersonal interactions and mood, it can have a good effect on stress-related parameters such as cortisol, heart rate and blood pressure and it can be good forself-reported fear and anxiety and in general for people mental and physical health. [10] Moreover, pets not only interact directly with people but, through their presence alone, they may also enhance the social behaviour between people, acting as social facilitators, which very important during an isolated research mission to keep the crew cohesive. [11] For these reasons, one or more pets could be brought in H.O.M.E. Depending on its size, the pet may live in the living room or in a little cage in the clinic room.
    virtual reality platform can have multiple applications to enhance the researchers experience inside the H.O.M.E. Lab:
    • ricreative application: playing a game is always a good way to relax a bit, and doing it in VR makes the experience more enjoyable and diversifiable to never annoy the user;
    • social application: people can play together a game, this can have a good effect on their teamwork
    • medical application: VR can be used together with physical exercise machines to have people do physical activity while having fun. It has been showed how virtual reality game exercise may improve balance and gait of people in communities. [12]

    Further developments

    Further developments of our projects can be made following two paths.
    On a side, we can improve H.O.M.E according to the goal set by the United Nations General Assembly. In fact, by 2030, our solution could be used:
    • for a safe and affordable housing for all (goal 11.1);
    • to develop sustainable human settlement (goal 11.3).
    On the other side, if we manage to build our project and demonstrate its effectiveness with a real simulation, the next step could be bringing it to Mars.  On the Red Plant, H.O.M.E. could be 3D printed in situ and assembled there thanks to its modularity. In particular, a novel material called Martian concrete, could be used: it is a new kind of concrete that can be completely build using only resources locally available on Mars, i.e. without water but with sulfur [13].    


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