TESSERAE

MIT Media Lab

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Context

TESSERAE (stands for Tessellated Electromagnetic Space Structures for the Exploration of Reconfigurable, Adaptive Environments) is a multiyear research project that has been conducted on self-assembling space architecture by Ariel Ekblaw and Joseph Paradiso at MIT Media Lab’s Space Exploration Initiative Lab.
MIT Media Lab invited Anastasia Prosina to join the project on-site to apply her human factors expertise with designing the interior architecture of habitable structures that foster future space missions to LEO and beyond.
TESSERAE is a tessellated shell structure withs multifunctional tiles assembling autonomously in orbit. It functions with multi-use, low-cost orbiting modules that supply a critical space infrastructure for the next generation of zero gravity habitats, science labs, staging areas for on-surface exploration, and more.

Unlike large-scale habitats proposed for entire space colonies, the TESSERAE should be thought of as flexible and reconfigurable modules to aid in agile mission operations.

SUMMARY

Interior for self-assembling space habitat TESSERAE

Client

MIT Media Lab

DATE

2019

Challenge

To complement the buckyball-shaped self-assembling space station with lightweight and deployable interior solutions to minimize the cost and maximize space capacity for storage and prospective crew influx.
We were required to support an influx in crew size (up to eight astronauts) for NASA’s proposed Gateway Space Station. Facilitate several functional spaces, assuming we meet the usual suite of required astronaut support areas for a mission of three months.
SUMMARY

Interior for self-assembling space habitat TESSERAE

Client

MIT Media Lab

DATE

2019

Process

While designing for limited space, we kept in mind the specific design drivers.
The airlock diameter is only 93 cm (3 ft) which dictates that all habitable structures should meet this restriction or be smaller to fit inside the station. Also, the fullerene form of the station is a unique and non-standard design for this spacecraft, which means we needed to develop everything from scratch.

To match volume requirements for the crew of eight with a 3-month mission duration, we summarized volume standards based on ISS requirements. Moving forward to the era of human-centered design in space, half of the TESSERAE space capacity would  include a dining area, bathroom, washroom, sleeping quarters, interaction and private capsule spaces.

Additionally, air circulation consumes the most volume, although it overlaps with all other areas. It is essential to note that 30% of the volume should be open for airflow. Storage space occupied a quarter of the volume, which we subdivided into food storage, personal belongings, and miscellaneous.

We calculated that a crew of eight for a 3-month mission would need six ECLSS racks to sustain life and wellbeing. However, an important question remained of how to best fit large volumes of components into the TESSERAE.

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Our aesthetic choices drew from Japanese architectural display, in particular, the integrity and modularity of Metabolism—a post-war Japanese architectural movement that fused ideas from architectural megastructures with those of organic biological growth.

Our design also borrows from the idea of shoji, a room divider consisting of translucent paper, for mixed-use space utilization. Having proposed the buckminsterfullerene shape, a relatively new geometry to space architects (in comparison to the many designs proposed for cylindrical habitats), we have had to develop new design primitives for the interior life subdivisions.

The diagrams and functional spaces discussed below are a preliminary attempt and part of ongoing work to marry our adaptive, self-assembling shell concepts with the practical needs of a crew of eight.
SUMMARY

Interior for self-assembling space habitat TESSERAE

Client

MIT Media Lab

DATE

2019

Design

Habitation Core
Located in the middle of the module, the Habitation Core ensures convenient access to any location within the capsule while providing the privacy needed for sleeping and personal tasks.

The private quarters were equally divided by partitions, with personal belongings storage located in the center division (shown in teal). Each inhabitant can enjoy a virtual experience projected on the curved containment wall by their berth for recreation.

Per feedback from our astronaut user research sessions, open-space projection was preferred to VR headsets. The habitation core is centered in the volume of the TESSERAE module and, therefore, more protected should the crew experience a micro-meteoroid impact or other external danger. 

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We calculated that the hexagon-shaped galley would occupy three TESSERAE tiles to provide a sufficient amount of food and equipment for eight people. However, the problem is that we still didn’t know how to stow the galley to pass it through the airlock, which is 93 cm in diameter. Every galley consists of nine blocks made of a collapsible fabric lid (Mylar, Tedlar, Dacron) and fabric sides with telescopic poles in it. Galley sections contain an ellipsoidal origami-made “table” to clasp food and personal belongings, a flexible workstation, private relaxation capsules, food storage, and
thin interfaces with tunable stiffness furniture. A collapsible fabric lid is used as a projection surface and provides Velcro patches to hold digital tablets.

The final volume of the galley block is four times smaller than its deployed volume. Each galley consists of nine blocks, thus allowing it to be only 25% of the volume of the final assembled state.

SUMMARY

Interior for self-assembling space habitat TESSERAE

Client

MIT Media Lab

DATE

2019

Design

Anthropometric Sleeping Bag
Unlike the International Space Station’s sleeping bags, which are similar to conventional camping bedding, the anthropometric sleeping bag supports a natural posture in a weightless environment. It carefully considers numerous dimensions of zero gravity body posture and embraces the human form according to the range of every movement.

The sleeping bag utilizes the pneumatically controllable technology of
Spatial Flux that morphs to encompass the human body in zero gravity (City Science Group). Velcro patches on the back of every sleeping bag attached to any surface of of the sleeping quarters to facilitate flexibility.
Meditation Corridor
The meditation corridor was formulated to deliver a retreat to the crew where they can relax by reading a book, practicing yoga, or staring through the window while enjoying the breathtaking view of the Moon (seen below).

The meditation corridor connects to the green-colored inflated habitation core from which the ingress into the hall occurs. Stowed fabric curtains, on the sides of the hexagon-shaped entrance, can be used when privacy is needed.

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The o-shaped wall texture furnishes extra storage space.

It is designed to awaken the tactile senses of the crew, compensating for the lack of opportunity to experience nature and touch sensations from family members.

One study even suggested that “tactile stimulation can be more desirable than food,” hence it is frequently used in urban playgrounds.

SUMMARY

Interior for self-assembling space habitat TESSERAE

Client

MIT Media Lab

DATE

2019

Design

Racks
We based the rack system of the TESSERAE interior on the reconfigurable racks of the Jet Propulsion Lab’s (JPL) space architect Scott Howe (Random Access Frame). The design provides a multipurpose and flexible system for life support systems, research equipment, and storage. We further optimized the frame shape to better fit into the fullerene without any gaps.

Ideally suited for the fullerene station, the rack system is easily repairable, reconfigurable, and lightweight, making it an ideal choice for space design. Utilizing already existing rack systems, with some optimization, saves time and allows for cheaper production costs.

SUMMARY

Interior for self-assembling space habitat TESSERAE

Client

MIT Media Lab

DATE

2019

Analysis

Although self-assembling space habitation is not a near-term solution for space habitation due to current risks, we see this project as a great exercise on designing interiors to support human wellbeing. As we voyage to settle on the Moon and spread our existence on Mars, it is imperative to focus on the long-term effect of isolation, loneliness, and other human-centered conflicts.  

We thank Ariel Ekblaw, the Director of MIT Media Lab’s Space Exploration Initiative for inviting Anastasia to contribute on this leading project in space architecture. With this project, we reimagined how limited spaces support sustainable survival, so a crew would enjoy staying there for a prolonged period.

SUMMARY

Interior for self-assembling space habitat TESSERAE

Client

MIT Media Lab

DATE

2019