3 Questions: Ariel Ekblaw on building beautiful architecture in space


Courtesy of the researchers

Courtesy of the researchers

By Jennifer Chu 

Living in space today is a cramped and utilitarian endeavor. Astronuats who arrive on the International Space Station (ISS) are prepared for a stay in tight quarters, surrounded by exposed wiring, bulky electronics, and floor-to-ceiling beige paneling.

But what if in-orbit accomodations could be more spacious, livable, and even beautiful? That’s a question driving TESSERAE, an ambitious space architecture project led by Ariel Ekblaw SM ’17, PhD ’20, the founder and director of the Space Exploration Initiative in MIT’s Media Lab.

TESSERAE (an acronym for Tessellated Electromagnetic Space Structures for the Exploration of Reconfigurable, Adaptive Environments) is Ekblaw’s unique design for future space habitats, based on a system of magnetic, self-assembling tiles. The basic idea is that, once deployed in space, wall-sized tiles would connect autonomously to create spacious, habitable, and reconfigurable structures.

In April, the project cleared a recent milestone when TESSERAE samples were flown up to the ISS with Axiom Space AX-1, the first ISS-bound mission to fly a fully privately-funded crew. During their 15-day stay, the paying astronauts ran tests on TESSERAE, along with other science projects aboard the space station.

Following the mission, MIT News checked in with Ekblaw to see how TESSERAE fared, and what the future of space habitats might hold.

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