Space exploration has lately been making ripples amongst news outlets. Events such as the founding of the United States military Space Force program, the Artemis program to return to the Moon and the plan to journey to Mars have garnered much attention. But a successful space mission does not begin in space. Experiments to prepare for these missions cannot all take place off-world. There is simply not enough equipment, manpower, and most notably money, to do so. Further, space travel is very dangerous and can be demanding on the human body. Therefore, adequate preparation is necessary to try to lower the risks involved with spaceflight by replicating the environments of space. Enter analogue missions—missions that take place in locations here on planet Earth aimed to replicate the different forces found in space and to put the human body through similar circumstances as living and working off-world.
Analogue missions have been frequently used by global space players, such as NASA in their Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) and smaller groups like the Hawaii Space Exploration Analogue and Simulation (HI-SEAS) and the Austrian Space Forum (OeWF). Set in a variety of locations such as deserts, underwater, and the arctic, these missions prepare humans for the acute conditions of space—isolation, confinement, and team behaviours to name a few—and are used to test new technologies—such as equipment, vehicles, infrastructure and habitats—before ever leaving the planet’s surface. These missions allow for measures and countermeasures to be tested with less risk and lower cost. Equipment and procedures that do not perform well are not recommended for spaceflight, therefore sparing higher costs and ensuring the safety of the space crew.
Figure 1: SAGA Astrobiology Laboratory addition to the D-MARS simulation habitat in the Israeli Desert.
Photo courtesy of asaga.space.
These analogue habitats have cropped up worldwide, with HI-SEAS most recently completing a two-week, all-female mock Mars mission on the slopes of the Mauna Lao volcano. But at UK Analogue Mission (UKAM), through fostering an interest for spaceflight within the United Kingdom and promoting international and interdisciplinary collaboration, we are aiming to bring analogue missions to the UK for the first time. As there are no known missions of this type currently running in the UK, we are uniquely situated in our endeavours to pioneer research in analogue isolation, sustainable resource utilization, and habitat construction while focusing on applying new methods of existing STEM technologies in fresh and innovative ways.
To do so, we are currently pursuing partnerships with architectural groups to build an analogue habitat specifically for developing research on the physical, organisational, and technological restrictions a confined space would present. We are exploring options to conduct architectural designs for the habitat, being a great admirer of SAGA Space Architects, an award-winning Danish group, and their inventive designs in creating mission habitats such as an astrobiology laboratory addition to the D-MARS habitat in the deserts of Israel (Figure 1) and the Lunark Moon habitat soon to be constructed in the arctic regions of Greenland (Figure 2).
We are also seeking to present an opportunity for students within the UK to work with UKAM and participate in the conceptualization, design and construction of a habitat with the aim to create a sustainable space that is not only state-of-the-art, but progressive and creative. This opportunity would then allow for the possibility of utilizing a cast of experts that could mentor and partner with a network of students to together design and build the mission.
Figure 2: Cross-section of the Lunark Moon Habitat. Photo courtesy of lunark.space.
Nevertheless, whichever route we elect to take, it is imperative our habitat be designed to not only ensure humans survive in harsh terrains, but to thrive. Our proposed UKAM habitat will be an experimental ‘pop-up’ space, taking inspiration from SAGA’s collapsible Mars and Lunar frames. It would ideally be made from lightweight and durable materials that can be easily transported, and would be designed to be airtight, strong, and able to withstand the harshest environments, with simple parts that can be easily interchangeable. Additions such as solar paneled skins to provide renewable energy, exterior membranes to preserve atmospheric pressure, and proposed collapsible architecture frames for easy transport, would potentially test whether programs could continue for longer periods in more volatile conditions.
Figure 3: SAGA Mars Astrobiology Laboratory & algae-based life support system. Photo courtesy of asaga.space.
Following the successful creation of the habitat, in addition to testing the habitat itself and serving as an experiment for new and innovative STEM technologies, it will serve as part of a study into the experience and effect of cohabitation and isolation on prospective astronauts within a confined space.
We at UKAM, through the unique opportunities available to bring missions to the United Kingdom, wish to partner with global audiences, universities, and research institutes to enable this mission. Whether in the development of practical STEM opportunities, design and creation of the habitat or participation in experiments of cohabitation, we aim to provide a platform for the next generation of space minds to apply their knowledge and gain invaluable experience through international and interdisciplinary collaboration and a shared passion for spaceflight.