To Colonize Mars, Look to Standards Development

By The Open Group

In advance of The Open Group San Francisco 2017, we spoke with Keegan Kirkpatrick, one of the co-founders of RedWorks, a “NewSpace” start-up focused on building 3D printable habitats for use on earth and in space.  Kirkpatrick will be speaking during the Open Platform 3.0™/Internet of Things (IoT) session on February 1.

Keegan Kirkpatrick believes that if we are to someday realize the dream of colonizing Mars, Enterprise Architects will play a critical role in getting us there.

Kirkpatrick defines the contemporary NewSpace industry as a group of companies that are looking to create near-term solutions that can be used on Earth, derived from solutions created for long-term use in space. With more private companies getting into the space game than ever before, Kirkpatrick believes the means to create habitable environments on the moon or on other planets isn’t nearly as far away as we might think.

“The space economy has always been 20 years away from where you’re standing now,” he says.

But with new entrepreneurs and space ventures following the lead of Elon Musk’s SpaceX, the space industry is starting to heat up, branching out beyond traditional aerospace and defense players like NASA, Boeing or Lockheed Martin.

“Now it’s more like five to ten years away,” Kirkpatrick says.

Kirkpatrick, who has a background in aerospace engineering, says RedWorks was born out of NASA’s 3D Printed Habitat Challenge, a “Centennial Challenge” where people from all kinds of backgrounds competed to create 3D printing/construction solutions for building and surviving on Mars.

“I was looking to get involved in the challenge. The idea of 3D printing habitats for Mars was fascinating to me. How do we solve the mass problem? How do we allow people to be self-sufficient on Mars once they get there?” he says.

Kirkpatrick says the company came together when he found a small 3D printing company in Lancaster, Calif., close to where he lives, and went to visit them. “About 20 minutes later, RedWorks was born,” he says. The company currently consists of Kirkpatrick, a 3D printing expert, and a geologist, along with student volunteers and a small team of engineers and technicians.

Like other NewSpace companies, RedWorks is focusing on terrestrial solutions first; both in order to create immediate value for what they’re doing and to help raise capital. As such, the company is looking to design and build homes by 3D printing low-cost materials that can be used in places that have a need for low-cost housing. The company is talking with real estate developers and urban planners and looking to areas where affordable housing might be able to be built entirely on site using their Mars-derived solutions.

“Terrestrial first is where the industry is going,” Kirkpatrick says. “You’ll see more players showing up in the next few years trying to capitalize on Earth-based challenges with space-based solutions.”

RedWorks plans to use parametric architecture models and parametric planning (design processes based on algorithmic thinking in which the relationship between elements is used to inform the design of complex structures) to create software for planning the printable communities and buildings. In the short-term, Kirkpatrick believes 3D printing can be used to create smart-city living solutions. The goal is to be able to combine 3D printing and embedded software so that people can design solutions specific to the environments where they’ll be used. (Hence the need for a geologist on their team.) Then they can build everything they need on site.

“For Mars, to make it a place that you can colonize, not just explore, you need to create the tools that people with not much of an engineering or space architecture background can use to set up a colony wherever they happen to land,” Kirkpatrick says. “The idea is if you have X number of people and you need to make a colony Y big, then the habitat design will scale everything with necessary utilities and living spaces entirely on-site. Then you can make use of the tools that you bring with you to print out a complete structure.”

Kirkpatrick says the objective is to be able to use materials native to each environment in order to create and print the structures. Because dirt and sand on Earth are fundamentally similar to the type of silicate materials found on the Moon and Mars, RedWorks is looking to develop a general-purpose silica printer that can be used to build 3D structures. That’s why they’re looking first to develop structures in desert climates, such southern California, North Africa and the Middle East.

A role for architecture and standards

As the private, NewSpace industry begins to take off, he believes there will be a strong need for standards to guide the nascent industry—and for Enterprise Architects to help navigate the complexities that will come with designing the technology that will enable the industry.

“Standards are necessary for collaborating and managing how fast this will take off,” he says.

Kirkpatrick also believes that developing open standards for the new space industry will better help NewSpace companies figure out how they can work together. Although he says many of NewSpace start-ups already have an interest in collaborating, with much of their work in the very early stages, they do not necessarily have much incentive to work together as of yet. However, he says, “everyone realizes that collaboration will be critical for the long-term development of the industry.”  Beginning to work toward standards development with an organization such as The Open Group now will help incentivize the NewSpace community to work together—and thus push the industry along even faster, Kirkpatrick says.

“Everyone’s trying to help each other as much as they can right now, but there’s not a lot of mechanisms in place to do so,” he says.

According to Kirkpatrick, it’s important to begin to think about standards for space-related technology solutions before the industry reaches an inflection point and begins to take off quickly. Kirkpatrick expects that inflection point will occur once a launcher like SpaceX is able to do full return landings of its rockets that are then ready for reuse. He expects that launch costs will begin to fall rapidly over the next five to ten years once launch providers can offer reliable reusable launch services, spurring the industry forward.

“Once you see launch costs fall by a factor of 10 or 100, the business side of the industry is going to grow like a weed. We need the infrastructure in place for everyone to work together and enable this incredible opportunity we have in space. There’s a very bright horizon ahead of use that’s just a little hard for everyone to see right now. But it’s coming faster than anyone realizes.”

@theopengroup #ogSFO

by-the-open-groupKeegan Kirkpatrick is the Team Lead and founder of RedWorks, a NewSpace startup in Lancaster, California. He has an undergraduate degree in Aerospace Engineering from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and before turning entrepreneur worked as an engineer at Masten Space Systems on the Mojave Air and Spaceport.

In 2015, Keegan founded RedWorks with Paul Petros, Susan Jennings, and Lino Stavole to compete in and make it to the finals of the NASA Centennial 3D Printed Habitat Challenge. Keegan’s team is creating ways to 3D-print habitats from on-site materials, laying the groundwork for human settlement of the solar system.