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Tackling 10,000-foot ice cap next for UH space architecture program


New summit station planned for greenland summit camp offers space applications

This 1/16" scale model of the new Summit Station facilities was built by students from the UH College of Architecture’s Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture during the 2005 spring semester.

Scientists are preparing to step up research in the Polar Regions, and University of Houston architecture students and staff are designing the facility at the Greenland Summit that sits atop more than 10,000 feet of ice.

The UH group was the only organization approached to submit a design proposal for the first stage of a new summit station at the peak of the Greenland ice cap. The project was undertaken in response to the January 2004 GEO Summit and Facilities Planning Meeting. GEO, the ad hoc intergovernmental Group on Earth Observations, includes 47 countries and 29 international organizations, becoming a movement toward the development of a comprehensive, coordinated and sustained global system of Earth observations.

The first stage of project posters was presented at the December 2004 American Geophysical Union (AGU) conference. A worldwide scientific community that advances the understanding of Earth and space for the benefit of humanity, AGU will hold another conference May 16 in New Orleans where the complete posters of the project will be presented. Barry Lefer, atmospheric research scientist and assistant professor from the UH geosciences department, will present the UH Summit Station design at the meeting to representatives of the international scientific community.

Leading fifth-year students from the UH College of Architecture’s Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture (SICSA), Olga Bannova, a research faculty member with SICSA, has been working with her colleagues, UH architecture students and experts from other organizations to develop the research facility design for the U.S. Summit Station located on the ice cap in central Greenland. Bannova and four of the seven students working on the project will head up north to Greenland for a one-week stay May 15-20 as guests of the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the VECO Polar Resources Company to conduct additional site evaluations and initiate tests of the experimental scale mockup station as a basis for possible design refinements. The project is being done in preparation for the pursuit of a possible future grant for continuing collaboration.

The large plywood model of the proposed building was put in place in early May, and the snowdrift circumstances around it will be monitored through summer 2005 with the measurements and photos to be presented at the next AGU and International Polar Year meetings. A scale model is being created for wind tunnel testing at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland.

The UH project has involved planning support from professionals at VECO, UH scientists and New Hampshire University researchers. The design applies a jack-up structure approach similar to construction of offshore drilling rigs to adjust for buildup of snow that would otherwise bury any facility. The structure is also aerodynamically designed to minimize wind loads and accumulations of drifting snow that could hamper site operations.

The UH Summit Station design optimizes energy conservation and environmentally friendly features. Wind power and solar panels will provide electrical energy. Water and waste materials will be recycled to the extent possible, using proven and experimental processes. "Smart" devices will be used to control sunlight for efficient natural heating and cooling, and a large hydroponics plant growth facility will provide fresh vegetables to reduce costs for transporting food to the crews.

The proposed UH Summit Station facility includes two major types of structures. The first, a triangular three-story building approximately 200 feet long on each side, will offer scientific labs, housing accommodations for about 25 people, an atmospheric and astronomical experiment area on the roof, and the hydroponics greenhouse. A separate, lower structure will house mechanical support equipment and serve as a vehicle maintenance and logistics storage facility.

"With 2007-08 announced to be the International Polar Year, compelling science issues will be addressed with regard to both Polar Regions – Concordia in the Antarctic and Summit Camp in the Arctic," Bannova said. "This will involve multi-national and interdisciplinary interactions that attract the next generation of scientists, engineers and leaders. With growing interest in polar research and the necessity now being recognized for a new station at the Greenland Summit with better research and accommodation conditions, we saw an opportunity at SICSA to bring our space expertise to the table."

Bannova says the station also is being proposed as a test-bed facility for NASA and related research for space missions. There are direct analogies between Arctic and Martian exploration related to symptoms and timelines of missions, as well as research goals, opportunities and risks. Greenland snowdrifts, for instance, are similar to dust storms posing difficulties in research on Mars. Psychological, social and cultural aspects of life in Arctic and Antarctic remote areas, outer space and other environments also have similar isolation, confinement, deprivation and risk factors that building designers must consider.

"Important priorities are to provide a high-quality environment for research and science experiments and to minimize development, construction and operational costs while optimizing safety, versatility, autonomy and human factors," Bannova said. "The research topics that can be investigated both at the Greenland Summit and during space missions include such human factors research as psychological and physical effects, hydroponics study and conditions for people during a long stay in isolation."

Lisa Merkl | EurekAlert!
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