an overview of non-terrestrial construction

By: Thomas M. Ciesla
Originally presented in the proceedings of   Space '88: Engineering, Construction and Operations In Space,
NASA, ASCE; August, 1988. Article has been reformatted for online publishing


Astrotectonics is the science of construction in space of both orbital and planetary structures and facilities as well as orbitally assembled interplanetary spacecraft. The success of man's construction activities is dependent on the development of support equipment and assembly techniques using man alone, man and robotics, or robotics alone, depending on the work to be performed and the hazards present. The separation of Astrotectonics into distinct genre's of orbital and planetary facility construction due to subtle differences in the environment and subsequently, the equipment is discussed.



In comparison to the complex structural and civil projects undertaken on Earth throughout the centuries, construction in space may appear simple. In the absence of the forces imposed on a structure by wind, weather, and gravity, the design and assembly of orbital space structures should be straightforward. In reality however, nothing could be farther from the truth. Orbital structures experience no wind loading or weathering, but must instead withstand a hard vacumn, high radiation and the corrosive effects of the Earth's atmosphere while in low Earth orbit (LEO). The abscence of gravity loading is countered by extreme temperature variations and enormous dynamic loads during orbit insertion and with each position correction while in orbit.

Astrotectonics (astro = space; tectonics = building) is the science of construction in space of both orbital and planetary structures and facilities, incorporating issues in architecture, structural and system design, program management and material/labor estimating standards and guidelines. The UNited States has recently unveiled a number of ambitious goals for space exploration over the next fifty years (36,37). To meet these goals, Astrotectonics must quickly evolve from its current infancy to a comprehensive construction managgement system. Development of this system has progressed at a cautoous pace, based on data gathered from extensive terrestrial and space experimentation (Breeding, R.e. and Griswold, H.R. 1981; Card, M.E. 1986; Covault, C. 1987; Gossain, D.N. 1985; Hall, S.B. 1979; Heard, W.L. 1986), testing design of structural systems and components as well as many handling and assembly techniques. The operation of the U.S. Space Station -- the first large dimensional habitated structure to be truly 'constructed' in space -- will add enormous amounts of data and expertise to the U.S. space program and the field of Astrotectonics. The technology and construction techniques proven in LEO will benefit the construction of the first Lunar base.


Figure 1
Space Structure Evolution

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