35 innovative projects support UAE’s pioneering efforts in space research and exploration

Photo: WAM

The Mohammed bin Rashid Space Settlement Challenge and the Dubai Future Research, Dubai Future Foundation’s research arm, have published a report presenting the findings of 35 projects developing technological advancements for a future Mars Settlement, in line with the Emirates Mars Mission and the UAE’s National Innovation Strategy which highlights the space sector as one of the key pillars of innovation and growth for the future economy.

The Mohammed bin Rashid, MBR, Space Settlement Challenge was launched in 2018 at the world Government Summit and sought to accelerate the gains of space research, support the UAE’s vision of building a strong national space agency, develop a domestic space industry, and become a hub for scientific research and talent. The Challenge funded 35 research teams from private companies and academic institutions from countries all over the world to advance space research and develop technological solutions designed specifically for a Space Settlement on Mars.

The challenge included research in various disciplines including science, mathematics, engineering, technology, economics, law, political science, and even art. The findings therefore address a number of questions that will not only be relevant to future space settlement, but also to issues that are already present on Earth, such as food and water scarcity, public health and policy, and sustainable energy.

BOTTLE Water-farm The BOTTLE prototype will capture vapour from the Martian atmosphere to produce water for astronauts. Not only will this technology have "great impact for Mars exploration and the UAE’s strategic space exploration goals" but it will also be critical in addressing economic, environmental and social, challenges on Earth according to Dr. Javier Martin-Torres Principal Investigator of BOTTLE at Luleå University of Technology Sweden.

"Large-scale ‘water-farms’ could support displaced communities living in extreme conditions, and can provide agriculture and water for desert countries" that rely on desalination according to Torres.

According to the Dr. Javier MBR Space Settlement Challenge funding grant "supported cutting edge research, which otherwise would not have happened." The grant enabled the development of "several functional prototypes of water farms" which were tested in the Boulby Mine (UK), as an extreme environment comparable to Mars.

The Bionic Plant prototype will absorb CO2 from the Martian atmosphere, or from within a spacecraft, and recycle it into oxygen and glucose.

This technology "will not only have a significant impact on deep space exploration, but also several unique applications on earth for energy sustainability" according to Dr. Tara Karimi and Moji Karimi the founders of the ‘Bionic Plant’ and Cemvita Technology Texas.

According to Karimi, funding from MBR Space Settlement Challenge "allowed us to build our first prototype with the mission to convert CO2 to glucose and create a regenerative life support system... Initial funding to build the proof of concept for a breakthrough technology is very critical and not everyone is willing to take the risk."

"Since our technology mimics photosynthesis, it can harvest solar energy and be carbon-negative. This provides a sustainable method for the production of chemicals and polymers using CO2 as feedstock which will have several benefits for our society, economy and the environment.

Currently many companies use carbon capturing and sequestration technologies to capture C02 and store it underground. However, the rapid onset of climate change will not only require countries to reduce carbon emissions but actually recycle carbon dioxide, as per the Paris Agreement of the UN. The Bionic Plant technology is an effective carbon utilisation technology which will help companies not only in capturing carbon from their exhaust gases but recycle it into useful products such as glucose, ethanol and PVC.

Gesture-based Robot Control for Telemanipulation in Space Environments In this project, researchers contributed to the development of a technology that seeks to replicate the sense of touch, allowing engineers to physically "touch" objects remotely, known as "teleoperation." Such technology will be able to enhance users’ perception capabilities in high-precision teleoperation activities, such as the fine control of mechanical tools, or in scenarios when remote tasks require both force and precision. It could also provide amputees with prosthetic limbs that allow them to regain the sense of touch Building on Mars with Interlocking Blocks Researchers designed construction blocks that can interlock to build strong structures without the need for additional building materials. This paves the way for rapid and reliable automated construction, something which may be critical for building space settlements.

These blocks "use geometry instead of chemistry" by utilising the self- reinforcing strength of block combined in certain structures. 3D printing can build small shapes quickly, but is not easy to rebuild, nor is it practical for large scale construction. The technology developed in this project builds structures from interlocking standardised components. This leads to rapid, sturdy construction, and it allows structures to be easily repaired, altered or recycled later Designing a Martian House This project consulted experts from various fields, including architects, geologists and engineers to design and build a house that will be physically and aesthetically ideal for living on Mars. The researchers developed a house that is completely sustainable. It comprises systems that recycle waste products into energy sources - just like how our houses on Earth will need to be in the future.

The researchers also looked at the significance of living spaces for the mental and psychological health of people living in challenging environments. By consulting experts in polar and arctic construction, the researchers estimated the ideal ratio of personal and social space that astronauts living on Mars can maintain their mental and emotional wellbeing.

DFF’s Dubai Future Research will be hosting a webinar with the UAE Space Agency on the 28th of July to discuss some of the findings of the report and the potential they offer for longer term space settlement.

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