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University of Southern California

May 12, 2014

USC professors have won a highly prestigious NASA research award to develop new robotic construction technologies for building structures on the Moon and Mars. Professors Behrokh Khoshnevis (Industrial Engineering), Anders Carlson (Architecture), Neil Leach (Architecture) and Madhu Thangavelu (Astronautics) have been awarded a Phase 2 NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts [NIAC] research award for a project entitled, 'ISRU Based Robotic Construction Technologies for Lunar and Martian Infrastructure'. The project is based on the concept of 'In Situ Resource Utilization' [ISRU], and seeks to use resources readily available on the Moon and Mars as construction materials for novel robotic construction technologies in order to build infrastructure components such as roads, landing pads, blast walls and storage spaces. The project builds upon the success of an earlier NIAC Phase 1 award won by the team for a project entitled, 'Contour Crafting Simulation Plan for Lunar Settlement Infrastructure'.

Assistant Professor Anders Carlson is Co-PI on the project. He is examining the environmental variables affecting infrastructure design including extreme thermal cycling, radiation, micrometeorite impacts, vacuum, and moon or Mars gravity. Integrated design is being investigated to understand the importance of each environmental constraint and its comparison to design on earth. His focus is on assessing the viability of different structural forms influenced by the Lunar and Martian environments, construction methods and sequencing, and heat transfer. The research will rely on informed parametric design to conduct optimal form-finding based on environmentally imposed constraints and various competing objectives including material processing, transport and quantity.

The recent promise of Landscape Architecture is predicated on capturing an expanded territory of the urban matrix. Landscape Urbanism positions the profession to engage with the entire “horizontal body” of the city, suggesting that landscape architects are poised to succeed in this complex negotiation.

However, while the profession has enjoyed a growing role in planning, it often finds itself sidelined in determining the morphology of urban infrastructure – the instrumental built form that patterns the vast majority of the urban condition.

The work of the Landscape Morphologies Lab, directed by USC landscape architecture professor Alexander Robinson, seeks to build tools and methodologies for advancing the craft and agency of design practices in instrumental territories, where performance issues overshadow most design agendas.

One such project, in collaboration with Andrew Atwood, includes the development of a landscape prototyping machine to improve the design of dust mitigation landscapes at the Owens Lake in Lone Pine, California. The prototyping machine hybridizes engineering metrics, physical modeling, robotic technology, digital projection, and 3D scanning to create a multi-sensory design platform for addressing the complex issues present on the lake. The machine creates a common ground where designers, engineers, and the public can dynamically engage in the multiple agendas inherent to the lake.

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