How do we build cities on Mars?

Centuries ago, Sir Isaac Newton said of his many discoveries that if he had looked further, it was only “by standing on the shoulders of giants.” In the 21st century, space companies and nations may soon have a similar feeling that creeps down their spines as they transplant the bleeding edge of an entire scientific system to seed the first human cities of Mars.

This titanic effort will cover scientific fields so advanced that some have yet to mature. “There are some critical technologies that are still unresolved. One of them is tunneling – one of the most important factors – you have to have the right tunnel solutions,” said founder and head of the architecture team at ABIBOO Alfredo Munoz in a visual interview with Interesting Engineering. .

And in these tunnels, ABIBOO plans to install huge buildings that will be connected into larger “macro buildings” via networked tunnels drilled into the rock walls of Mars. But before digging begins, technology must catch up with theory, scout ideal sites, transport construction teams and equipment, and produce sustainable materials from the Martian environment. In short, we have to build cities.

On Mars.

The view of a Martian cliff with outwardly projecting city modules. Source: ABIBOO / SONet

Building sustainable cities on Mars

“We need to be able to transfer the initial goods – Elon Musk, SpaceX and other entities will be crucial as Nüwa City is just the beginning of a larger operation,” said Munoz. But before its 250,000 residents can move in, the first team of space engineers faces a colossal challenge. “We only have a chance every few years, and to bring the city to critical mass, we need high, exponential growth until we have the transportation technology.”

The first city on Mars will be called Nüwa and it will involve 32.8 ft (10 m) diameter tunnels – “even with current technology it could be solved.” For decades, the most challenging problem in imagining a colony on Mars has been moving enough material to another planet. While a significant amount of fuel and money can be saved by launching a mission to locate Mars from the Moon, moving enough material for even a few city blocks of the roughly 34 million miles (54.6 million km), at the very least, to the red planet.

Crucial to the Nüwa City project is its fundamental design, “to be built and operated with little resources from Earth. We must produce materials on Mars – therefore we have five different cities – the total amount of raw materials cannot be obtained in one. location. “On Earth, sustainability means that you don’t waste energy or resources if you can achieve the same or a similar goal locally without polluting the environment. “Why do we want to bring materials from Bali to New York when we can produce in New York?” Munoz asked rhetorically. It’s not just about not harming the environment, it’s about doing a lot with a little. ‘

The trick is to build the city on Mars “without damaging the water we’re going to use, and in an economical, scalable way,” Munoz said. “It’s not just about the environment, it’s about using it wisely,” said Munoz.

ABIBOO Arrival Nuwa City
The view upon arrival of a resident in Nüwa City. Source: ABIBOO / SONet

Oxygen, water, carbon dioxide and a lot of steel

However, for any city to thrive (on Mars or Earth), you need a lot of water and carbon dioxide (CO2). “Steel is the most widely used material in the city’s civil construction. Another essential element on a critical path for Nüwa is the transformation and production of oxygen,” Munoz continued. While many proposals have been made to generate oxygen from vegetation, for Munoz and ABIBOO this is not enough to support a human city. “Based on which life support systems we have analyzed, [vegetation-generated oxygen] alone will not be enough. NASA’s Perseverance rover will conduct experiments to test different methods of obtaining oxygen on Mars. ABIBOO’s “nuclear scientists considered transporting spent air and breathing air – […] it is almost the same idea as a refrigerator. “

“Most of the hard work through civil engineering would be done by robotics,” but “it wouldn’t be possible for people to [all] the job of the job – they can oversee robotics, “Munoz said. While building in the side of a cliff with robots on Mars isn’t a new idea, ABIBOO’s plan is for what to install in the tunnels. ” Macrobuildings is basically a term we came up with – a very large building made up of modules, each module being a building in itself. “Kind of like gigantic LEGO blocks, with central heating.

ABIBOO Urban Interior View
The interior of an urban module on Mars. Source: ABIBOO / SONet

Macrobuildings designed to destroy any challenge on Mars

Each macro building will be half a mile (800 m) wide, 656 feet (200 m) high, and 492 feet (150 m) deep – roughly the width of Central Park, in New York City. “Each macro building consists of 12 modular buildings, each made of 3D tunnels interconnected in tunnels,” explains Munoz. But this isn’t a plan to replicate the cookie-cutter aesthetic of gentrified neighborhoods. “Each module is different from another”, with 12 different models to switch the pattern and create a unique architecture.

ABIBOO Macrobuildings
A diagram of the different ‘macrobuildings’. Source: ABIBOO / SONet

Functionally, the mega-buildings will include workplace and living modules – mixed, but conceptual, with some more residential and others more commercial. “Each macrobuilding is different from the other”, which makes for “enormous diversity because no one is the same as the other.” The arrangement of the modules is not fixed, as the tunnels will connect in different relationships, which requires a unique solution for each macrobuilding.

ABIBOO Macrobuildings Layout
Work and living modules are connected to each other and via a high-speed lift system. Source: ABIBOO / SONet

The decision to build into the side of cliffs is an informed one, because there are many problems on Mars. The cliffs are inundated with solar radiation and can provide a natural shield to radiation levels higher than anywhere else on Earth. Another problem is air pressure (or lack of it).[I]Unlike problems on Earth where buildings fall, on Mars buildings can explode from pressure. Humans and animals need just over 0.7 times the atmospheric pressure “of the Earth at sea level.” We have 80% atmospheric pressure in the buildings “, and in an atmosphere of Mars, if you continuously inflate a balloon in the direction of this internal pressure,” at some point it will explode. That would mean a bad ending for any city on Mars.

“The bigger the building, the more pressure – the amount of structure we need for the building to increase, as does the tying to the ground,” since if a building contains air at a higher pressure than the external atmosphere, it will eventually rise up into the sky of Mars. This means that chemicals must be manufactured in thick silos to avoid an explosion due to the differential pressure. Other problems on Mars are the lower gravity and the loss of thermal heat to the external environment. Building underground “solves a lot of those problems,” Munoz said.

ABIBOO Nuwa City Large pavilion
A large pavilion in Nüwa City. Source: ABIBOO / SONet

Nüwa could become the most advanced city ever

Growing up in an underground cave isn’t ideal for emotional well-being, however, and probably won’t motivate most to move to Mars. “So we reversed it 90 degrees. Everything is underground, and since we have access to the other side of the cliff, we can enter the cliff and bring in direct light, while also fully protecting people from some of the challenges.” The vegetation for food can be grown above the city, on a mesa for an “enormous concentration of energy for plants. People are not allowed in and plants do not need much pressure.”

ABIBOO Nuwa City Urban Interior
A spacious urban interior with a view of the horizon of Mars. Source: ABIBOO / SONet

However, other proposals have been made over the past decade to build cities in the cliffs of Mars. A concept from the Mars City Design competition in 2016 was based on the ancient city of Petra in the Jordan desert. But ABIBOO’s proposal goes one step further. “It is not common to provide a solution on Mars that has the backup of any realistic solution in areas of life support systems, planetary geology, astrophysics, space engineering, biology, artists, architects, astrobiology, experts in mining, psychology, space law , “and more. SONet, a multidisciplinary team focused on sustainable settlements in other worlds, provided such scientific expertise. In Nüwa and other future Mars cities, ABIBOO wants to use architecture as a means of building a creative identity by blending science and art, “so that we can create a more emotional connection with where we live.”

At the end of March, ABIBOO estimated construction of Nüwa City could begin in 2054. But until we can place astronauts on the surface of Mars, it’s hard to predict when things can happen with certainty. “All critical paths start in the lab – [it] sounds realistic to say we can start in 2054, but it depends on these other parts. If one of them is delayed, then they all are, ”explains Munoz. For example, if SpaceX CEO Elon Musk decides to postpone plans for Mars, ABIBOO could change its strategy. ‘ We have to rely on analyzes from previous astronauts who were on Mars – we can’t develop Nüwa City until we find the right location. But once construction finally begins, the most technologically advanced human city could undergo a change of address, a one-way street: from Earth to Mars.