In the period between mid-1997 and 2000, a team at NASA's Johnson Space Center broke with historical paradigms by developing the first endoskeletal space module. The value of this design was cost-effectiveness and efficiency, and also the possibilities its technical success has created for new forms to support humanrated vehicles and modules for exploration missions.
SEIM is a complex, semi-inflatable vehicle whose two basic configurations - launch and deployed - are each optimized for their respective environments while retaining fundamental system integration for autonomy and efficient deployment. An early lesson of this new paradigm is its adaptability to a wide array of formal solutions for different sets of requirements. In this second formal study in adapting the paradigm, the architecture team has undertaken to design a module whose operations concept is similar to that of the habitation module, but operating in a different environment - that of a planetary surface. This typology is also another fundamental element of the critical path for human exploration: the surface habitat.
The surface habitat requirements for a lunar or Mars expedition include the ability to launch, deliver and deploy the module and subsequently to support positive and efficient operations for a period of up to two years.
Cost-effective responses to issues of propulsion, assembly method, environmental shielding and surface access are major design drivers. A set of requirements for the SEIM design includes the following:
- ability to launch on a single flight of any a number of large-size operational launch platform (e.g., Shuttle, Ariane 5)
- ability to activate and inflate autonomously on the destination body's surface
- support of main systems via pre-integrated elements; passive and active bulkheads to enable flexibility of docking configuration; integrated airlock element
- accommodation of at least 80 square meters of full-height area (min. 2.15m) for public and/or private use.