Posts tagged with "Space":

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Space Settlements explores what happens when we run out of Earth

Space Settlements By Fred Scharmen Columbia Books on Architecture and the City $24.00 The Earth is finite, and the sky is limitless. So proposed Princeton physicist Gerard O’Neill during the convening of the NASA Summer Study in 1975, when O’Neill gathered engineers, architects, astrophysicists, and others to flesh out logistics for the space settlements originally conceived by his students. With fears of resource shortages and overpopulation dominating the 1970s, O’Neill, his students, and prominent science fiction authors proposed massive rotating spaceborne structures that could perpetuate humanity among the stars. Of course, as Fred Scharmen meticulously documents in Space Settlements, that’s easier said than done. How can humans make the leap to living in pastoral orbital colonies when every artificial biosphere on Earth has failed? How would placemaking work in a wholly artificial environment, where every vista must be carefully curated as to not alienate inhabitants? What is the “ground,” normally a constant constraint to push against, in a habitat where even that is constructed? Scharmen’s book starts as a history of the creation and impact of a series of Summer Study paintings from artists Rick Guidice and Don Davis, but it quickly turns into a deeper examination of what it means to exist outside of Earth’s atmosphere. If building vertically allows architects to imagine new spaces unconstrained by the ground plane, as Rem Koolhaas proclaimed in Delirious New York, then building in space presents designers with the ultimate freedom—while ironically constraining them with the most stringent challenges. The images that emerged from the Summer Study are, by design, both familiar and alien. They show pastoral landscapes and familiar building typologies curved around the interior of massive toroidal or spherical spaceships, rotating to create artificial gravity at their edges. While O’Neill emphasized the need to consider these settlements as places with logistical needs and eschewed flashy pop culture depictions of his work, Guidice and Davis knew that illustrating the space stations as occupiable places would drum up public interest for the research. These megastructures, half-a-mile wide or wider with names like O’Neill Cylinders, Bernal Spheres, and Stanford Tori, would be anchored into orbits or Lagrange Points—places where the gravitational pull from the Earth and the Moon were equal, meaning whatever's put there, stays there. That imagery is still powerful 40 years later. With the fears of the ’70s once again resurgent as climate change, resource shortages, and mass migration dominate the headlines, billionaires are looking for ways to leave this world behind and move to the stars. Take the Jeff Bezos–founded Blue Origin, a spaceflight and rocketry company founded by the world’s richest man for the express purpose of eventually moving humanity off this planet. In May of this year, the company released a suite of renderings of spacefaring toroidal colonies, each depicting idyllic countrysides and architectural pastiches protected by a glass-enclosed sky, clear references to the Summer Study images from 40 years prior. The renderings were created to gin up excitement—and financial backing—for extracting resources from the moon as the first phase of launching an extraterrestrial settlement, but exactly what’s depicted has a deeper significance. Scharmen devotes much of Space Settlements to the human considerations of living in space. Humans, like all animals, need certain things to thrive, including open space and greenery, and the opportunity to watch something grow; hence the abundance of agricultural landscapes and wide vistas in Davis’s, Guidice’s, and Blue Origin’s images. However, as Scharmen points out (and landscape architect Marc Miller highlighted in an online article for AN), the renderings are very conscious throwbacks to Hudson River School paintings. These paintings were intended, in part, to encourage white observers to move west and assert their dominance over the North American wilderness. In depicting their landscapes as (artificial) wildernesses to be tamed, Blue Origin is trying to entice a very specific, well-educated population to “settle” these massive structures. Therein lies the rub. Both the Summer Study artists and O’Neill knew that their depictions of leisure were a bit misleading, as all colonists would have to work hard to keep their city-in-the-sky running even with advanced automation. More importantly, the rationale behind expanding into these megastructures in the first place is rooted in an outgrowth of extractive capitalism. As Scharmen and O’Neill both discuss in the book, and as the Earth-bound billionaires of today surely know, space outposts would have to justify their immense cost, likely through extraterrestrial mineral mining. However, go one level deeper, and the implications become even darker. As Bezos and his peers have repeatedly stated, they feel that the only way to “save” humanity from our doomed planet is to expand into space. Bezos frequently claims that he has too much money to spend on Earth and that expanding into space is the only logical next step. "The solar system can easily support a trillion humans,” Bezos told Business Insider. “And if we had a trillion humans, we would have a thousand Einsteins and a thousand Mozarts and unlimited, for all practical purposes, resources and solar power." To say that entirely artificial and dangerous habitats are the next logical step in humankind’s progression presupposes that this planet, one that we evolved specifically to inhabit, is already full. What was once proposed as a way to foster unique communities in the sky and expand humanity’s consciousness beyond the borders of this world has taken on a nihilist tinge. No one else has summed it up better than Elon Musk, another stargazing tech billionaire. When asked why he wanted to settle other planets in an interview with Aeon, Musk famously replied, “Fuck Earth! Who cares about Earth?”
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Mundos Alternos unfolds multiple Latinx futures at the Queens Museum

Sounding resonantly across the dimly lit atrium that houses the Queens Museum’s 1964 Panorama of the City of New York, the voice of Guadalupe Maravilla (born Irvin Morazán in San Salvador) shifted seamlessly between Spanish and English as he recounted a formative childhood experience: In 1984, he migrated from El Salvador to Texas to escape the violence of the Salvadorian Civil War. At ten years old, Maravilla had traveled without an adult save for the coyote who had been hired to escort them across the border. The performance was a crowning moment for an equally powerful exhibition, Mundos Alternos: Art and Science Fiction in the Americas, on view through August 18. Clad in a billowing polyester costume that cartoonishly mimicked a person being carried by a lime-green alien, Maravilla recited the monologue while accompanied by three other players, two of them dressed metallic silver bodysuits and faux taxidermied bear heads, and the third in a white balaclava and a cape adorned with sculpted rabbit heads. Such regalia is typical of Maravilla’s performances, which combine Mayan cosmologies with the artist’s personal history. For this performance—intended to “cleanse political phobias and blockages of New Yorkers”—the actors alternately sat, moved about, and chanted among the panorama’s rivers and bay, thereby enacting the title of the piece, Walk on Water. Bringing together over thirty Latin American and Latinx artists, Mundos Alternos focuses on works that engage the many allegorical lenses afforded by science fiction to examine the multitude of possibilities for the ongoing struggle of Latinx immigrant populations. The works on view encompass a sprawling array of mediums—from video, to sculpture, to installation—and take on an equally wide range of approaches to addressing the shared, thematic subjects of colonization, alienation, and diaspora. Curators Robb Hernández, Joanna Szupinska-Myers, and Tyler Stallings originally organized the exhibition for UCR ARTS at the University of California, Riverside, as part of the larger Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA presentation that opened in September 2017 and ran through January 2018. According to the Queens Museum’s website, they hope to extend the run of Mundos Alternos either within or outside of the U.S. in order to continue a “conversation about speculative aesthetics at a time when immigrant futures are facing a crossroads.” Among the many highlights of the presentation are a reading room where visitors can peruse classic and contemporary works of science fiction published in English and Spanish. Inside a small theater, Alex Rivera’s film Sleep Dealer (2008) is screened on a loop, which astutely revises the heroic protagonist tropes of Blade Runner and The Matrix to apply to the plight of migrant workers. Indeed, the exhibition is aptly divided into an array of physically and conceptually linked realms—or “constellations,” as the curators refer to them—where viewers are free to enter, peer into, or ignore a diverse array of interior spaces. The museum’s central, sky-lit foyer is dedicated to a kinetic sculpture by Chico MacMurtrie and Amorphic Robot Works (ARW) titled Organic Arches (Time Traveler) (2014/2017). Here, sixteen tendrils constructed from electric valves sheathed in diaphanous white fabric hang just above the floor. When “closed,” each cylinder is coiled into loops and the structure constitutes a static, impenetrable scaffold until it is activated at predetermined times, when a computer system slowly expands the contracted limbs of each tube. Extending into the archway of its title, the “opened” sculpture briefly allows visitors to pass through its ribcage-like tunnel before curling back into stasis. By far the most immersive work in the exhibition is Rigo 23’s multi-room installation, where manifestos of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation are scrawled among emblems of the movement, which take the form of snails, butterflies, balaclava-clad activists, and ears of corn. Queremos un mundo donde quepan muchos mundos, states one of the paintings hung in the final vitrine of the installation: “We want a world in which many worlds fit.” Maravilla’s July 21st Walk on Water performance came at an especially pertinent moment in the realm of New York cultural institutions; four days earlier, an Artforum Slant garnered widespread attention for calling on artists participating in the 2019 Whitney Biennial to withdraw their contributions to the exhibition as a form of protest against the museum’s refusal to remove billionaire Warren B. Kanders from their board of trustees. Kanders is the owner of Safariland Group, a distributor of law enforcement equipment including the brand of tear gas that has been used on Central American refugees attempting to cross the U.S.–Mexico border. By the time Maravilla entered the panorama in his human-alien costume, eight artists had demanded the removal of their work from the biennial, and tens of others had publicly advocated for Mr. Kanders’s resignation. While Kanders eventually resigned from his position and the eight protesting artists will remain in the biennial, the renewed discussion regarding the stewardship of public art collections by progenitors of state violence has galvanized many facets of an art world known for its implicit insularity. With its terminus yet to be determined, Mundos Alternos thus constitutes a prescient landscape of possible dystopias that remain unrealized yet highly possible, should the populations in positions of power succumb to the forces of greed or inertia. The spectators lining the panorama for Maravilla’s soliloquy were faced with the traumas inflicted by such dystopic scenarios. Maravilla’s performance, the calm narration of his own transience and pain, reminds us that the retention of our humanity is a choice we must actively pursue, and that the struggle for survival increasingly required of globally marginalized demographics will be fought not only at far off borders but within the private and public spaces of our own cities.
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SFMOMA celebrates moon landing with a Far Out space-inspired exhibit

In celebration of the semicentennial of the moon landing,  the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) is holding an exhibition on space-related design that promises to be out-of-this-world. Far Out: Suits, Habs, and Labs for Outer Space opened on July 20th, 50 years to the day after Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the lunar surface, and contains a variety of space suits, hypothetical space habitats, and moon-based laboratory designs.

The objects on display range in practicality from the tried-and-true to the downright quixotic. There are NASA spacesuits designed for real-life astronauts, as well as examples of Neri Oxman’s organically-grown, biomimetic work. Working with the Mediated Matter research group at MIT, she created a wearable that uses a photosynthetic membrane to convert sunlight into usable microbial material for its user. While the device has yet to be taken into outer space, its potential implications for the feasibility of long-term space travel earned it a spot in the exhibit.

Much of the work on display at SFMOMA is decidedly architectural. Architectural illustrator Rick Guidice's renderings of his Bernal Spheres and Toroidal Colonies, originally produced for NASA, depict suburban housing developments and agricultural landscapes as they might one day exist in free-floating space colonies. The exhibition also includes Mars Ice House, a collaborative project by Clouds Architecture Office (Clouds AO) and Space Exploration Architecture (SEArch) for NASA’s Centennial Challenge Mars Habitat Competition. In its design for a four-person habitat to be placed on the surface of Mars, the team proposed a 3-D printed structure that would be covered in a layer of ice to shield it from the planet’s harsh weather conditions. Visualizations of the design can be viewed in the exhibit, which will be on display through January 20, 2020.

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Decoding the colonial history behind Blue Origin's space settlements

In May 2019, Jeff Bezos made his case for why and how humans will occupy space, in a presentation titled “Going to Space to Benefit Earth.” The original presentation was made to a relatively small audience but is also viewable on the website of Blue Origin, the Bezos-owned spaceflight and rocketry company. In little less than an hour, he made the argument that for humans to continue to evolve and improve their living standards, we will need access to more resources and environments than the earth has to offer us. As part of the presentation, Bezos described his vision for what the off-planet colonies will look like and the short-term goals required to make them a reality. While most of the emphasis was placed on those short-term goals, which are to colonize and extract resources from the moon, the more compelling section of the presentation focused his long term goal for off-planet environments. Using a series of illustrative animations, Bezos explained how humans could inhabit space using O’Neil cylinders. This is technology initially imagined in the 1970s by Princeton University physics professor Gerard O’Neil. There are plenty of other people, such as Fred Scharmen, who have already written about the history behind extraterrestrial colonies and their cultural impacts, so instead, I would like to focus on the even older representational techniques that influenced Blue Origin's vision of the future. Bezos used four images to illustrate and emphasize a set of important points that he makes to re-enforce his vision. The first of these points is that Blue Origin's space habitats would not be made up of larger versions of the international space stations but of manmade environments capable of supporting populations that are the equivalent of small to medium-sized cities. The second is that these orbital landscapes could vary in use (and simulated gravity through the adjustment of their rotational speeds), including recreational, farming, and technical purposes. The third is, that despite being removed from the surface of the Earth, the architecture could be made to be both visionary and familiar, allowing colonizers to maintain their cultural and spatial references while experimenting with novel landscapes. Despite being new natures, the landscapes and ecologies presented by Blue Origin were highly familiar places. This was an important part of the presentation because it allowed the audience to imagine themselves as potentially occupying these places. The representational devices used in the renderings are part of a long tradition of landscape painting: most notably, passive cues that make the occupation of unfamiliar landscapes imaginable and palatable. For comparison, Thomas Cole and other artists of the Hudson River School created paintings that normalized the 19th-century expansion into the Northeastern United States. They celebrated agriculture and other methods of organizing nature to the benefit of European colonizers, "taming" what they saw as a wild place. Nature has been historically used as an adversary to be conquered in the form of weather and difficult-to-traverse topography. An example of this can be seen in the painting View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm—The Oxbow by Thomas Cole. The painting illustrates an artist on a hill facing storm clouds and farmland in the distance. The use of perspective and distance used in the Blu Origin images echo the rules used by Cole, with the only significant difference being the threat that the environment poses. One of the animations places a stag on a mountain in the center foreground of the rendering. In the background, there is an expanse of artificial wilderness with a city in the distance. To the right of the stag, an eagle or other large bird of prey flies effortlessly through the cylinder. Adjacent to the settlement in the image, the earth slowly rotates into view from behind the wilderness section. Instead of the thunder clouds seen in Cole's work, the sky has been replaced with the dark void beyond the structure's enclosure and stars, with the explicit understanding that this is an off-planet landscape surrounded by a vacuum. In another animation, a city is present in the background and passenger cars moved along a light rail. The presence of rain seen in Thomas Cole's painting has been replaced with a drone watering crops as it drifts over land designated for agricultural use. Weather in these spaceborne enclosures, specifically rain events, would be fabricated and controlled by necessity. However, using drones to create rain events also speaks towards a need to experience weather to simulate “nature” to the highest degree possible. The drones provide a service, but they also normalize an extremely artificial landscape. The final two animations illustrated two forms of off-world urbanism. In one of the images, the "city" was created by collaging together a series of important architectural constructions and streetscape seen across the world. From one vantage point, a resident would see a blend of Swiss, Italian, and Chinese architecture. Architecture would work as a comforting set of references for the residents, tying them back to the Earth-bound cultural environments perceived as being valuable. This vision was a more densely populated habitat of tall buildings, parks, and athletic fields. As is the case with the landscapes, the city animations sampled a narrow segment of the Earth, and were meant to attract interest from a narrow segment of people. The primary audience is the people that were present in the auditorium, sharing privileged worldviews and experiences, who would recognize the imagery being referenced. The animations shared by Blue Origin represent a complex set of ideas and allowances. They presented a chance to revisit the romantic mythologies that the adults in the audience saw in their college art history courses. At the same time, those renderings validate their commitment to a future where technology is the best means to advance humanity. Like the Cole painting, they justify the presence of people in space habitats through the use of positive pastoral imagery. This leads to what is arguably the real goal of the presentation—building enthusiasm for resource extraction on the moon. Jeff Bezos makes it clear that the moon would need to be mined for the resources that would make these space habitats economically viable. He also stated that space would provide a limitless amount of resources for expansion. This is an argument of expansion and capitalism, one that edges out conservation on Earth. There is an implicit assumption that increased exploration will make the materials cheaper. This is an argument that has been made many times before, including in 1492 when Columbus lobbied for the investments that would allow him to reach the Bahamas. Marc Miller is currently an assistant professor at the Penn State Landscape Architecture Stuckeman School.
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Trevor Paglen’s orbital sculpture lost forever after government shutdown

After a successful Kickstarter campaign last year raised $76,000 for the launch of the Orbital Reflector “art satellite,” the installation has been lost in space. The project arose from a collaboration between American artist Trevor Paglen and the Nevada Museum of Art. Once the diamond-shaped balloon was fully deployed, it was supposed to circle the Earth for two months, reflecting sunlight back to the ground at night. Once the small “CubeSat” carrying the balloon reached space, it was to separate from the rocket, establish a unique orbit, and inflate the balloon using a compressed nitrogen cartridge. Orbital Reflector was supposed to have been the first piece of public art visible from space, with a truly global reach (edging out Pepsi’s attempts at low Earth orbit advertising). The 100-foot-long reflective polyethylene balloon was launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket alongside 63 other satellites on December 3 of last year, but was unable to deploy as scheduled thanks to the ongoing government shutdown. Each satellite requires a unique ID number so that it can be tracked at ground level; unfortunately, the Combined Space Operations Center, a division of the Air Force that allocates those identifiers, was unable to perform this task during the government shutdown. The Nevada Museum of Art lost contact with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), who had requested the team wait for their go-ahead before expanding the balloon, during that time as well. Now it seems that the team has thrown in the towel. According to a letter dated May 1 posted on the Orbital Reflector website, communication with the satellite has been lost. “Orbital Reflector successfully separated from the rocket,” reads the final update, “and was deployed within a cluster of similarly sized spacecraft. To avoid collision, Orbital Reflector was set to inflate once it drifted away from potential impacts, and after it had received final clearance and approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The satellite’s electronics and hardware were designed to function during this waiting period but were not hardened for long-term functionality in space. From the start, the satellite was designed to be as light and functional as possible to allow for eventual disintegration. “By the time the government was re-opened and the Air Force renewed its attempts to sort out the cloud of satellites, communications from spacecraft had gone silent. At this point, it became clear that tracking Orbital Reflector, either before or after its inflation in space, would no longer be a viable outcome.” With the satellite dead in the water, the project’s Kickstarter backers at least received the pins, patches, and postcards they had pledged for.
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Alicja Kwade hews a cosmos from steel and stone on the Met’s roof

An astronomical ballet has landed on the roof of Manhattan’s Metropolitan Museum of Art for the summer. The 2019 Roof Garden commission has gone to Polish-German artist Alicja Kwade, who has installed two stark sculptural interventions in the space overlooking Central Park; ParaPivot I and ParaPivot II, which will be on display through October 27. The Berlin-based Kwade has suspended nine marble spheres, each mined in a different country, including Norway, Finland, and Brazil, and uniquely veined and colored, in a simulacrum of our solar system. Each planetoid weighs between a hefty half-to-one-and-a-half tons, but have been effortlessly elevated by angular, interlocking powder-coated steel frames. The color and patterning of each carefully-selected stone mimic the most well-known features of each planet. (The nine planets represented include Pluto, which was demoted from planet-status in 2006.) As the frames fan out from a central point, the spheres’ arrangements suggest the elliptical, wobbly orbits found throughout our solar system, with many of them playfully balanced and wedged between the scaffolding. The Met describes the ParaPivot structure as evoking the “astrolabe, a scientific instrument invented in ancient Greece and perfected by Islamic astronomers in the medieval period to chart the trajectories of the stars and planets.” However, the piece is site-specific for a reason. Each rectangular scaffold creates a curated view of the Manhattan skyline, and both frames the city as well as suggests a “support” that holds it up. The effect is meant to tie the Earthly setting to the astronomical theme. Unfortunately, because of the delicate interplay between stone and steel, visitors aren’t allowed to walk underneath either ParaPivot.
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Pepsi denies plans to advertise in space

Soft drink giant PepsiCo has shot down reports that it plans to advertise in low Earth orbit (LEO), after reports surfaced last week in Futurism that the company was working on a “space billboard.” Using a small fleet of satellites armed with reflective mylar sails, the company was reportedly going to advertise a new drink called Adrenaline Rush, targeted to a “stereotyped” minority—gamers. Enter Russian company StartRocket, which has proposed using CubeSats—satellites that measure 4-inches-by-4-inches-by-4-inches—to create orbital billboards that would be visible all over the planet. The tiny satellites would be ferried into LEO via a rocket, and their solar panels and large mylar sails would unfold after the satellites were ejected from the main vessel. The CubeSats would then arrange themselves to form an image or message, and the “billboard” would be visible at dawn or dusk as they reflected sunlight. Although costs have been dropping and the same basic principles that StartRocket wants to build off of have been used for artistic purposes, no form of space-based advertising has ever been successfully deployed before. If the company can make its CubeSat system work, its floating advertisements would circle the Earth from approximately 250-to-310 miles away and would have a viewable surface area of about 19 square miles. On April 13, it seemed that Pepsi was going to be the first soda in space. A Russian PepsiCo spokesperson, Olga Mangova, told Futurism that the company had partnered with StartRocket and was working to create the advertising campaign of the future. Then, Pepsico made an abrupt about-face. “We can confirm StartRocket performed an exploratory test for stratosphere advertisements using the Adrenaline GameChangers logo,” a PepsiCo spokesperson told SpaceNews. “This was a one-time event; we have no further plans to test or commercially use this technology at this time.” However, as Futurism points out, this was likely an attempt by PepisCo to deflect criticism after the company came under heavy fire on social media over the proposal. A PepsiCo spokesperson "clarified" that there had been a translation error between the media and the company's Russian employees, and that they had been referring to a high-altitude balloon test earlier in April, not a future campaign. That wouldn't make sense, as Futurism had originally queried them over their future plans, and Mangova confirmed that they would be using an "orbital billboard"—distinctly different from a balloon. StartRocket were similarly unable to provide updated information on any ongoing, or past, PepsiCo collaborations. While no laws prohibit advertising in space in such a way that would be visible from Earth, it’s likely any real attempt to create an unavoidable billboard in the night sky would be met with pushback. Still, if it becomes cheap enough, the night sky could one day become home to airborne advertisements (but asteroid-anchored condo towers remain unlikely).
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SOM and MIT shoot for the Moon with design for lunar village

While NASA is researching 3D-printed habitats for the Moon and Mars, the European Space Agency (ESA) has tapped Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to envision a theoretical lunar city. The Moon Village, which SOM will masterplan, design, and engineer, not only reflects the collaborative nature of the ESA’s mission but also lays out a plan—and base of operations—for space exploration past 2050. As Israel prepares to potentially land the first privately-funded spacecraft on the Moon, the Moon Village would take a decidedly more multinational approach and could be used by future science missions or even space tourists. Set up along the rim of the Shackleton crater on the Moon’s south pole, which receives continuous sunlight for nearly all of the lunar year, the Moon Village would rely on solar power to generate electricity. The possibility of water ice inside the crater itself, which is always shadowed, would provide the colony with another potential resource to tap. “The project presents a completely new challenge for the field of architectural design,” said SOM Design Partner Colin Koop. “The Moon Village must be able to sustain human life in an otherwise uninhabitable setting. We have to consider problems that no one would think about on Earth, like radiation protection, pressure differentials, and how to provide breathable air.” How did SOM design around those tight constraints? The village’s modules would all inflate or deflate depending on their programmatic needs. Each structure would be about three-to-four stories tall and contain living quarters, environmental controls, life support systems, and workspaces. Eventually, 3D-printed regolith shells could protect the modules from radiation, fluctuations in temperature (although Shackleton crater has a more consistent temperature than other parts of the Moon), and dust. Modules would be clustered and linked through pressurized tunnels to provide easy transportation between them. A series of in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) experiments could help determine how to best use the Moon’s natural resources. Oxygen and possibly rocket fuel could be generated from the nearby ice, and food could be conceivably grown in the environment. The Moon Village has been envisioned as a three-stage development that would eventually create a long-term, sustainable Moon community. The first phase, the master plan revealed on April 9, used near-future technology; but, as Fast Company pointed out, the Moon Village would still be reliant on international cooperation, and that’s far from assured right now.
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Government shutdown delays deployment of orbital art satellite

After a successful Kickstarter campaign raised over $76,000 to launch the world’s first “space sculpture” into orbit, plans to deploy the 100-foot-long reflective balloon have been put on hold thanks to the record-breaking U.S. government shutdown. Orbital Reflector was conceived by American artist Trevor Paglen through a partnership with the Nevada Museum of Art. The ambitious satellite-based installation was supposed to deploy its angular, self-inflating payload once in orbit and create a sky-high “mirror” that would circle the globe for two months. The diamond-shaped, polyethylene balloon is coated in a titanium dioxide-finish that would have reflected sunlight back down to the Earth at night—a gesture the Nevada Museum of Art hoped would inspire in viewers all over the world “a renewed sense of wonder.” The satellite carrying Orbital Reflector successfully made it into space on a December 3, 2018, launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with 63 other satellites, most of them CubeSats. A CubeSat is sized in standard U units; one “U” is equal to 4-inches-by-4-inches-by-4-inches; the satellite carrying Orbital Reflector is only 3U, about the size of a brick. Because of the government shutdown, only half of the satellites from that December launch have been able to detach from the rocket and move into independent orbits, as every satellite requires a unique ID number so that it can be tracked. According to an update posted on the project’s Kickstarter page on January 22:
A division of the United States Air Force known as CSpOC (Combined Space Operations Center) is faced with the task of properly identifying each of those satellites so that they can be tracked as they orbit the earth. Six weeks post-launch, that task is still not complete; only half of the satellites from the launch have been properly identified. Many of the satellites that launched together remain in a cluster and until they separate it is difficult to correctly identify each one. Prior to the holidays, we had been working very closely with the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) and other relevant space-related authorities to deploy the balloon at the right time for a safe trajectory. The FCC had asked us to wait for their go-ahead before we deploy the balloon. Since the government shutdown began, communication with the FCC has been suspended, as they are not operational at this time.
When the tracking information for Orbital Reflector becomes available, terrestrial art patrons can track the installation via the Star Walk 2 app. The sky-high conceptual piece was supposed to orbit the Earth for two months, completing a rotation around the planet every 94 minutes. It remains to be seen whether the time spent in limbo will eat into that period, or if the satellite will be able to deploy before the orbit of the SpaceX rocket it’s attached to begins to decay.
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Suspended structure will house research into space-exploring Japanese robots

New York–based firm Clouds Architecture Office has designed a suspended research facility for AVATAR X, a partnership between ANA Holdings Inc. and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the Japanese space agency, developing space-exploring robots. The levitating building will be at the center of the AVATAR X Lab Oita campus, which will host office and laboratory space for various tech companies invited to participate in the partnership's research, along with a lunar-like landscape for testing remotely-operated vehicles. AVATAR X is focused on developing avatars, specialized robots that humans can direct and manipulate from a remote location, thereby obviating the need for humans to go to space themselves. The floating lab structure will stand nearly 60 feet above the bottom of an artificial crater at the center of the campus. A series of other buildings will complete the campus in Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan.
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First-ever luxury space hotel shoots for the stars

Forget all about skyscrapers hung from orbiting asteroids, the next big trend in astronomic real estate may be in space stations. Developer Orion Span has revealed Aurora Station, a luxury space hotel that will house guests 200 miles above the Earth’s surface come 2022. First announced at the Space 2.0 Summit in San Jose, California, on April 5, Aurora Station is laying claim to the world’s first fully-modular space station. While Aurora’s first capsule will only be 43.5 feet long and 14 feet across, renderings show the station branching out as extensions are added. “We developed Aurora Station to provide a turnkey destination in space. Upon launch, Aurora Station goes into service immediately, bringing travelers into space quicker and at a lower price point than ever seen before, while still providing an unforgettable experience,” said chief executive officer and founder of Orion Span, Frank Bunger, in a press release. “Orion Span has additionally taken what was historically a 24-month training regimen to prepare travelers to visit a space station and streamlined it to three months, at a fraction of the cost. Our goal is to make space accessible to all, by continuing to drive greater value at lower cost.” The aforementioned three-month training certification, the Orion Span Astronaut Certification (OSAC), is completed in three parts; the first online, the second at Orion Span’s state-of-the-art training facility in Houston, Texas, and the third on Aurora Station itself. While rocket launches have become exponentially cheaper in recent years thanks to private competition, guests will still pay a premium for their zero-gravity stay aboard Aurora Station. A 12-day trip will cost $9.5 million per person, or nearly $800,000 per day, with a refundable $80,000 deposit. According to Orion Span, the first four months of reservations have already sold out in the three days since the station was revealed. The initial Aurora Station capsule would fit six astronauts in a 35-foot-by-14-foot living space, two of whom would be trained crew. Once onboard, guests could watch the sun rise and set as the station rotated around the Earth every 90 minutes, grow food, and use a VR setup that Orion Span has dubbed a “holodeck”. While space tourism is nothing new (Russia is aiming to attach a luxury hotel to the International Space Station by 2022), it remains to be seen how much of Orion Span’s plan will be realized. As Bloomberg notes, the company hasn’t released its funding goals or contracted a launch provider yet, and the four-year window is an ambitious one for building a space station. Still, if Aurora gets into Low Earth Orbit in 2021 and begins accepting guests in 2022, Orion Span plans to branch out into space condos and may sell attachable capsules for those looking to claim a slice of space life.
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NASA’s bold space habitats inspired a generation of designers

This is an excerpt from a forthcoming book, Space Settlements, about the architectural, historical, social, and science-fictional contexts surrounding NASA’s efforts to design large-scale human habitats in orbit during the 1970s. Space Settlements will be published by Columbia Books on Architecture and the City in fall 2018. In 1975, Big Science and the counterculture teamed up with two illustrators to design the cities of the future. But, unlike the communes and megastructures that we’re familiar with from the speculative architecture of that era, these would not be located on Earth. Stewart Brand, the publisher of the Whole Earth Catalog, and engineers at the NASA Ames Research Center both supported a project—first proposed by Princeton physicist Gerard O’Neill—to build huge habitats in orbit that would house millions of people. At a Summer Study conference in what was even then known as Silicon Valley, NASA and O’Neill hired painters Don Davis and Rick Guidice to create renderings of these new worlds. Most previous plans for space stations had consisted of a disconnected series of capsules or chambers. The Summer Study habitats were large enough that they were effectively new ground surfaces, spun for artificial gravity, on which any kind of city or landscape could be constructed. NASA’s team architect Patrick Hill—of Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo—specified that, in order to achieve maximum efficiency and space-saving, the buildings inside should be made from systems of prefabricated parts that could be assembled quickly, offering variety and adaptability. Beyond these constraints, the two illustrators had broad latitude to design the architecture that would be shown in the renderings. Both drew on their unique combinations of backgrounds to offer their own interpretation of the future of space occupation. Davis was originally an illustrator for planetary scientists like Carl Sagan, and had also worked on book covers for science fiction novels like Larry Niven’s Ringworld of 1970, depicting a habitat design concept not unlike the “Stanford Torus” sketched by O’Neill’s team. Davis focused on the landscape, and the challenges of creating planetary ecosystems within small closed worlds. Human inhabitation, in Davis’s paintings, touches the artificial ground lightly. To depict it, Davis drew on his fondness for Buckminster Fuller’s domes and other self-built architecture like the “Zomes” made by Steve Baer at the famous Drop City commune. Davis would have been familiar with this work as a reader of Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog, which included Baer’s “Zome Primer,” an instruction manual for building these structures out of repurposed car hoods. Other buildings painted by Davis are more reminiscent of the kind of Googie architecture related to an earlier generation of pop science fiction painters like Frank R. Paul. In an interview, Davis also admitted he would go to the library and read copies of Progressive Architecture magazine for inspiration. Guidice, on the other hand, had been trained as an architect, and had made the shift from there to commercial illustration and work promoting space exploration and aviation concepts for NASA. Guidice’s paintings take the kit-of-parts concepts from work like Moshe Safdie’s Habitat 67, and remix them to create even more individuality. Reyner Banham wrote about the concept of the “Terrassenhaus,” the scheme of terracing trays that megastructural projects use to shape space, in his book Megastructure: Urban Futures of the Recent Past. Safdie used the resulting platforms as the basis for his notion of “for everyone, a garden,” combining high-rise density with a suburban Garden City ethos. In Guidice’s renderings the friendly modernist Garden Cities like Columbia, outside Baltimore, take their comfortable combination of vernacular and contemporary into new high-density suburbs in space. These speculations strike a compromised balance between the displacing conditions in space—like the unfamiliar inverted horizon, the hostile environment outside, and the small size of the habitat—and the excitement inherent in exploring and making new worlds. The speculative contemporary architecture of the 1960s and ’70s—small-scale personal construction with sheet metal, and large-scale New Towns made of reinforced concrete—is put to use to show that space is for you. The two illustrators, acting as designers, show that the architecture of the future space city can be adapted to your lifestyle, whether you’re a dropout desert communalist, or a cosmopolitan terrace urbanite. Fred Scharmen teaches architecture and urban design at Morgan State University and is the author of the upcoming book Space Settlements.