lucy zakharova envisions inflatable lunar habitat made of silica aerogel

lucy zakharova envisions inflatable lunar habitat made of silica aerogel



As a Space Architect, Lucy Zakharova is dedicated to scientific and architectural research that integrates design across scales and disciplines. Co-Director of Columbia University CSI, she is currently leading NASA’s Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts project MEPSA – Mars Water-Based Propellant ISRU system. Expanding her passion for the cosmos, Zakharova presents HESTIA — a permanent, habitable, self-deployable, and inflatable vessel that comes in a series of efforts to establish a self-sustainable human settlement on the surface of the moon


The exterior structure is designed to maintain a stable internal temperature and atmosphere, which is necessary for the well-being and survival of the crew. Its architecture creates a pressurized environment around inhabitable volume, protecting astronauts from the extreme temperatures and harsh conditions of the lunar surface,’ explains the architect. 

space architect lucy zakharova reveals inflatable lunar habitat 5
Phase A – Antarctica, a mobile testing facility | all images © Lucy Zakharova



using highly durable + insulating elements 


Zakharova (see more here) explains how our Moon has no atmosphere to protect it from solar wind, micrometeoroids, and radiation. It is vulnerable to the constant flow of high-energy particles, X-rays, and ultraviolet light that cause high stress on equipment and materials. Its surface is extremely dry and dusty, with temperatures changing dramatically between day and night — reaching up to 127*C (261*F) during the day and dropping to -173*C (-279*F) at night. Simultaneously, temperatures in direct sunlight vs. shadow can vary up to 200*C (400*F) degrees. Consequently, materials must be chosen carefully and temperatures managed.


As an example, one material may have dramatically different thermal expansion characteristics while interfacing with another material, resulting in a fatality of a structure. Such habitat may rip itself apart as materials expand and contract differently. Lunar conditions make it very difficult to maintain equipment and active habitable structures on the lunar surface and make it unlikely that any future long-term missions will not include additional layers of durable insulation, she continues. 

space architect lucy zakharova reveals inflatable lunar habitat 6
Phase A – HESTIA as an inflatable and self-deployable structure with high insulation properties



As such, HESTIA presents itself as an inflatable lunar habitat that equalizes temperature and pressure between the inside and outside to provide a safe environment for any long-term mission. Made of silica aerogel — a highly insulating material that shields the crew from the lunar surface’s harsh conditions and vacuum — the structure allows for the gradual scalability of its systems in a hexagonal pattern, responding to the growing needs of space research and exploration as a whole. Beyond insulation, the durable silica aerogel is also highly resistant to radiation and damage from micrometeoroids. HESTIA is also equipped with nitrogen, a natural gas with high insulation properties and low thermal conductivity; the crew would maintain it at a low pressure to ease overall functions.

space architect lucy zakharova reveals inflatable lunar habitat 7
Phase A – a habitat with carefully regulated temperature and pressure conditions



on maintenance and testing 


Unlike the Apollo Lunar Module launched by NASA in 1968, HESTIA is designed solely as a habitable unit for long-duration missions and does not include descend and ascend stages. Its interior will also include guidance, navigation, equipment necessary to perform experiments and collect samples, and control systems to ensure a safe and precise connection with Earth.


The inflatable structure’s overall durability will be affected by its maintenance, Zakharova clarifies: ‘It would require a system to maintain the pressure inside the structure, as well as a system to detect and repair punctures or leaks. A large robotic arm, similar to the one on the International Space Station (ISS), could perform inspections, patch up punctures, and repair the structure as needed. It is important to note that the inflatable structure will be additionally subject to pressure changes, which may cause stress on the material. Concluding regular inspections and repairs using a robotic arm will help extend the structure’s life and ensure that it remains operational for as long as possible.

space architect lucy zakharova reveals inflatable lunar habitat 1
plan of a single HESTIA structure on the moon



Zakharova based her project on the ‘predecessors’ of HESTIA — namely, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) used to demonstrate inflatable space structures’ capabilities since 2016. Such an inflatable technology allows for a more compact and lightweight design, making it more cost-effective and efficient to transport and deploy in low orbit. TransHab is another inflatable module developed by the NASA Johnson Space Center as part of the Mars Direct program to send humans to the red planet. The program envisioned TransHab as a habitat for long-duration space missions.


In line with the data collected, Zakharova proposed the Antarctica Phase A of HESTIA as a mobile test facility to be located 400 meters south of the German Neumayer Station III in Antarctica. This deployment will allow crews to test the mission equipment’s resistance and durability against harsh environmental conditions and familiarize them with the habitat’s architecture and use.

space architect lucy zakharova reveals inflatable lunar habitat 2
an aggregation of structures in a hexagonal pattern



proposing new architectural forms 


Reflecting on her proposal, the architect shares: ‘Physically, any structural form, once filled with pressurized air organically tends to become a softer shape, much closer in its geometrical properties to a sphere, a torus, or a cylinder with domed ends. The future of space architecture would expect the need for pressurization, pushing the aesthetic towards circular and spherical designs. Space architecture is designed as pressure vessels with geometrical forms where surface tension caused by high pressure can be managed. Space architecture becomes physically constrained by soft geometrical boundaries. Any internal organization is forced to be maintained within soft formal systems, much resistant to the western perception of the perfect rectangular arrangement.’





Alternatives to inflatable structures were also considered for this project — specifically, traditional systems built of regolith, highlighting their potential durability and resistance to the harsh conditions on the lunar surface. Building with regolith, however, may be more costly as it involves a complex process (i.e., the need for specialized equipment and additional preparation before construction).

space architect lucy zakharova reveals inflatable lunar habitat 3
adopting softer shapes, close to a sphere

space architect lucy zakharova reveals inflatable lunar habitat 4
using silica aerogel as the main material







project info:


name: HESTIA

function: Inflatable lunar habitat 
design: Lucy Zakharova – Space Architect@lucy__zakharova



designboom has received this project from our DIY submissions feature, where we welcome our readers to submit their own work for publication. see more project submissions from our readers here.


edited by: lea zeitoun | designboom

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