Foster + Partners has designed some of the most famous buildings in the world and, if one of its recent designs is anything to go by, it may soon have buildings on other planets, too. The firm has designed a shelter for up to four astronauts on Mars that would be 3D printed by a fleet of robots.

The design was created as part of the 3D Printed Habitat Challenge, organised by America Makes and NASA, for which Foster + Partners has been shortlisted among the competition's 30 finalists. The proposal covers not only what form the shelter would take, but how it would be constructed.

It is proposed that the 93 sq m (1,001 sq ft) structure would be built by semi-autonomous robots prior to any astronauts arriving at the Red Planet. The material used to construct the habitat would be the loose soil and rocks found on the surface of Mars, known as regolith. This, of course, would eliminate the need to transport construction materials from Earth.

Foster + Partners says that three different types of of robot would be used. By using large numbers of robots, a high level of redundancy is said to be built into the approach. If one robot were to fail, another could complete its task.

The initial excavation of a 1.5-m (4.9-ft) deep crater would be carried out by large "diggers," after which inflatable modules that form the core of the settlement would be placed into the crater. Smaller "transporter" robots would then be used to cover the inflatable modules in regolith. The final stage of the process would see so-called "melter" robots fusing the regolith using microwaves to create a skin that would provide protection from the radiation and excessive temperatures outside.

The shelter would have a variety of overlapping private and communal spaces. It would be finished with "soft" materials and Foster + Partners says there would "enhanced virtual environments" to help prevent "the adverse effects of monotony" among residents.

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