So far we have finished two projects! Check it out below, or read more about them on our blog.
Our first project was to design, prototype, and manufacture a functional and collapsible airlock. We were able to present our design at an international conference, and constructed a prototype, ready for testing before the end of May 2019. With this work, we have inspired other universities across Canada to join us, in our very own “Project Airlock” competition, more information regarding which can be found further below.
Render of our collapsible airlock (without doors)
Conceptualization, design, and initial testing
The fall of 2016 saw us review knowledge of Mars, existing airlock designs and space programs. After the research stage was over, the team entered brainstorming mode. From there the engineering design process was used iteratively in order to find the best design along with various tests to ensure the design was robust. In this stage, the tests that we came up with included: pressure testing different materials and the main structure’s seals, various tensile tests in case of a catastrophic failure, controlling the pumps and motors, and validating the door’s mechanisms.
The first two photos show two different test fixtures to test various materials under pressure. The last two photos show our team in the research and design phase.
Prototyping, manufacturing, and iteration
With a detailed design created from what we learned in the first year, we were able to start testing in the fall of 2017. Then later in early 2018, we were able to put together the larger mechanisms that would be a part of the airlock. Our three sub-teams, electrical, structural, and mechanical, worked together to ensure the airlock functioned smoothly. Along the way, we also had help from various suppliers and sponsors that allowed us raise funds and obtain materials to construct the airlock. Our team worked hard to assemble the airlock in a mock capsule, reassemble it like we would on Mars, and troubleshoot any problems that arise.
Putting together various parts of the airlock.
Our team was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to show the world our design at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in October 2018. At this event, our captain presented a paper along with a presentation to the International Astronautical Federation (IAF). Our team members who represented the team at the IAC had the chance to explore the exhibition, attend technical sessions, meet people in the industry, and much more!
Above are various pictures highlighting the IAC 2018.
To measure our success, we planned to test the airlock under simulated conditions on Mars. The plan was to pressurize the inside of our airlock to represent the pressure difference between Mars and habitable air pressure.
Both pictures above show our near completed airlock while the second one demonstrates how collapsible our airlock really is!
Final Build & Pressurization
We were able to complete our build of the airlock in May 2019. We proudly showcased the entire airlock and colony for the first time at the Project Airlock competition.
Inserting the floorboards into the assembly
Airlock being showcased at the Project Airlock Competition
We soon moved onto pressurizing the Colony section.
The HELIOS project arose from a desire to learn more about extra-terrestrial resource extraction outside of our primary projects (Sabatier Fuel Plant, Mars Expandable Airlock). In order to make interstellar colonization a possibility, it is necessary to have the ability to mine off-planet and use resources in our solar system to their fullest. Thus, the core focus of this project was to study the economic viability of using interplanetary (for this case – the moon) resources.
The subject of interest for the HELIOS Team was the Lunar extraction of Helium-3 (He-3) for nuclear fusion. The goal of the sub-team was to propose a process design that is economically and politically feasible for a mining operation on the Lunar surface. He-3 has been researched as a potential alternative energy source via nuclear fusion for a few decades now. However, as the main source of He-3 usually comes from the maintenance of nuclear weapons, its supply is extremely limited on Earth (< 15 kg/annum).
The general process is broken down into three parts, similar to mines on Earth:
- Extraction – The physical acquisition of the Regolith from the lunar surface
- Liberation – Heating the mined lunar rock, to liberate He-3
- Processing – The final stage of preparing He-3 for transport
In its raw form, it has many applications in science and medicine which makes it valuable priced at $2000/L due to current supply and demand. Since Helium is not very heavy nor dense, it takes nearly 6000 L to weigh 1 kg, therefore 1 kg of He-3 costs over 10 million dollars!
As a result, the HELIOS team identified key parameters required for a feasible Lunar extraction operation and the potential challenges associated with the development of such a process. The findings were highlighted in a report that we were fortunate to have the opportunity to present at The International Astronautical Congress 2019 in Washington DC.