Press Release

Texas Spaceports, Mars Colonies on Drawing Board at UH

By SpaceRef Editor
October 7, 2002
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UH Space Architecture Program Provides Blueprints for Exploration

HOUSTON, Oct. 7, 2002 – Construction of commercial spaceports
in Texas and plans for the first human settlement on Mars have University
of Houston architecture faculty and students focused on the future
of the nation’s space program.

The critical first step for the successful commercial development
of space is to lower the cost of access to space, says Larry Bell,
director of the Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture,
or SICSA, a research and education center in the University of Houston
Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture. Since the center’s
establishment in 1987 with a $3 million gift provided by the Japan
Shipbuilding Industry Foundation, SICSA faculty and students have
been developing comprehensive plans for transporting and maintaining
humans in space.

Bell and his SICSA colleagues are key consultants to the Texas
Aerospace Commission as the state moves forward with plans for spaceports
in three areas of the state. Commercial spaceports would offer a
less expensive and less time-consuming alternative to satellite
developers and other potential users from industry who want options
for access to space other than launching from government-run facilities,
Bell says.

“There’s a large emerging market for smaller satellites,
and satellite developers, including the military, who want very
inexpensive launches,” Bell says. “They don’t
want to have to wait for a year or more to launch out of a large
government facility. There is some competition among several states
to create spaceports and attract launch providers.”

Bell has been working with a spaceport development corporation
in West Texas to plan the first demonstration launches from a site
in Pecos County, which took place Oct. 5. The site is currently
undeveloped. Balloon payloads carried small balls filled with experiments
by school children, and a sub-orbital rocket also was launched.
The U.S. Air Force paid for the launches.

SICSA has a contract with the Pecos County/West Texas Spaceport
Development Corp. to aid in the development of the West Texas site.
SICSA’s role is to prepare plans for facility requirements,
including facilities for vehicle preparation and payload processing,
flight control and monitoring, emergency services and security.
In addition, SICSA is looking at future ancillary facilities such
as restaurants, hotels and other aspects that may attract businesses
to the future spaceport. Educational facilities for high-school
and college students that provide curriculum support and hands-on
experiences also are part of the plan.

In addition to his work on the spaceport in West Texas, Bell will
be discussing issues surrounding planetary exploration and settlement,
such as the first Mars outpost and the technologies needed to get
there, during the World Space Congress 2002 Oct. 10-19 in Houston.
More information about SICSA and Bell’s presentations are
on the Web at http://www.sicsa.uh.edu/.

Bell describes the role of a space architect as more than just
an interior designer for NASA.

“Architecture, whether applied on earth or to dynamic space
missions, must take into account all of the elements and consider
all the issues involved in a particular project,” Bell says.
“Just as designing a building must take into account the ventilation
systems, code requirements, materials and construction, financing,
and the interior layout, an extended mission in space has multiple
elements.”

While an engineer may address only certain aspects of a mission,
the space architect takes a very holistic view, planning for propulsion
systems, design of transport and habitat modules, risk assessment,
social aspects of long-duration flights and health concerns, among
others.

“All these elements are totally interdependent and changes
in one affect plans for another. This is the realm of the space
architect,” Bell says.

To help the next generation of space explorers address these issues,
Bell has proposed an M.S. program in space architecture through
the UH College of Architecture, which would be the first of its
kind in the world, he says. The proposal is still in the approval
stages and Bell says it has been favorably received by the college
and the Texas Aerospace Commission.

Currently, undergraduates in UH’s five-year architecture
program can take space architecture courses beginning in their fourth
year of the bachelor’s program. Bell says a graduate program
in space architecture would attract scientists and engineers in
the aerospace sector who want to expand their vision to look at
the total mission-planning picture.

“This place is really marvelous and unique,” he says.
“Many of our graduates already work in aerospace fields continuing
projects they started here. When you’re talking about going
to the moon or Mars or beyond, you’re really talking about
taking risks, stretching your horizons. The dynamic problem solving
aspect of our program is what makes it truly fun, and I believe
the people who come through our program are going to make a difference
in our future. It’s like a whole bunch of people jumping into
the deep end of the pool together and we all have to learn how to
swim. It’s a wonderful learning experience.”

In SICSA’s plans for the first Mars outpost, for example,
Bell says they’ve come up with a good overall view of the
key issues and elements and the interrelationships among those elements.
Among the considerations for a

Mars mission that groups of SICSA students are working
on:

  • How do you make a settlement self-sufficient so that minimal
    supplies must be transported from Earth? Plans may include extracting
    oxygen from the carbon dioxide on Mars, which could be used both
    for life support and in propellants to lift off from Mars. How
    much mass you initially take on a mission also has implications
    for the type of propulsion system you’ll need, as well as
    for the size and design of transport and habitat modules.
  • How might the moons of Mars, Phobos and Deimos, fit into the
    exploration equation? Resources on the moons might be utilized
    to provide an interplanetary “gas station.”
  • If people are to go beyond Mars on longer-duration missions,
    artificial gravity becomes a more important consideration for
    the health of astronauts. Bell and his colleagues are exploring
    an artificial gravity project that works by using a system of
    tethers.

Another consideration for a Mars mission is radiation. The sun
and galactic radiation sources are particularly dangerous to humans
beyond the protection of earth’s atmosphere.

“Radiation is a potential show-stopper for long missions,
including Mars,” Bell says. “We need to find out a lot
more about radiation effects. This issue has implications for the
type of astronauts we send – women have different vulnerabilities
to radiation than men do, for example – as well as for the
amount of risk we’re willing to accept. What kind of medical
equipment and personnel should we take along on a mission? How willing
are we to risk lives to expand science?”

To receive UH science news via email, visit http://www.uh.edu/admin/media/sciencelist.html

About the University of Houston

The University of Houston, Texas’ premier metropolitan research
and teaching institution, is home to more than 40 research centers
and institutes and sponsors more than 300 partnerships with corporate,
civic and governmental entities. UH, the most diverse research university
in the country, stands at the forefront of education, research and
service with more than 34,400 students.

SpaceRef staff editor.