University of Manchester partners with SOM to develop graphene-enhanced space habitat

Specialists from the University of Manchester have teamed up with global architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) to study the design and manufacture of space habitats for the space industry.

The view from inside the observation deck aboard the Graphene Space Habitat. Credit: SOM and U of Manchester

As part of the international collaboration, Dr. Vivek Koncherry and his team (supported by the Manchester-based Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre) are creating a scale prototype of a graphene-enhanced space habitat with pressure vessels designed to operate in a spatial environment.

SOM, the architects behind the tallest building in the world – Burj Khalifa in Dubai – bring their design and engineering expertise to the spatial architecture. Daniel Inocente, Principal Designer of SOM in New York, said: “Designing for inhabiting space poses some of the greatest challenges – it means creating an environment that can sustain life and integrate support systems to the crew.

“As architects, our role is to combine and integrate the most innovative technologies, materials, methods and above all human experience to design inhabited environments,” added Inocente. “Conducting research using graphene allows us to test lightweight materials and design processes that could improve the efficiency of composite structures for potential applications on Earth and future use in space.

Over the next five to ten years, most governments are expected to desire a permanent presence in space to manage critical infrastructure, such as satellite networks, as well as consider the potential opportunity to access space resources and continue scientific exploration.

Dr Koncherry said: “A major barrier to scaling up over time to meet this demand is the lack of advanced, automated manufacturing systems to manufacture the specialized structures needed for life in space. One of the biggest challenges in the space industry is overcoming the lack of robotic systems to fabricate complex shapes using advanced materials.

The solution could be incorporating graphene for advanced structural capabilities, such as radiation shielding, as well as developing and using a new generation of robotic machines to fabricate these graphene-enhanced structures. This technology has the potential to revolutionize high performance lightweight structures – and could also be used for land applications in the aerospace, construction and automotive sectors.

James Baker, CEO of [email protected], said: “The work carried out by Dr Koncherry and his colleagues takes the development of new composites and lightweighting to another level, as well as the advanced manufacturing needed to make structures at from these new materials. By collaborating with SOM, there are opportunities to identify applications on our own planet as we seek to build much smarter and more sustainable habitats.

The launch of the space habitat coincides with a series of world firsts for graphene in the built environment currently taking place here on Earth – including the first external casting of Concretene and the pioneering resurfacing of the A1 road.

Tim Newns, Managing Director of MIDAS, Manchester’s Foreign Investment Agency, said: “This exciting research further highlights the breadth of applications where advanced materials and in particular graphene can revolutionize global industries such as space industry. In addition to cutting-edge expertise in graphene, facilities such as the new Advanced Machinery & Productivity Institute (AMPI) in Rochdale, will also support the development of machinery and advanced machinery needed to bring these applications to fruition.

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