(1 of 2) AI SpaceFactory Founder and CEO David Malott sits down with Space Bandits to discuss the future of space--and how the technologies AI SpaceFactory is developing for Mars just might transform the way we build on Earth. Visit Space Bandits for the full interview.
Space Bandits: Tell us about your background and your startup.
Before founding AI SpaceFactory, I was at the peak of success at a big-name architecture firm designing massive skyscrapers. Then something happened—maybe I got bored, or maybe I was bitten by the space bug a long time ago and remembered my first calling. I started at MIT in astrophysics, but somewhere between multivariable calculus and flux equations I realized I wasn’t very good at math. I opened up the MIT course catalog and picked the first major that didn’t require any more math--and that was Architecture. It turned out I wasn’t much of an astrophysicist but I did make a good architect.
"AI SpaceFactory is on a path to become the first multi-planetary building company."
I had given up on one dream but found another. Now, we live in exciting times where these dreams can converge. Space, architecture, and technology are all part of one big mission now. I founded AI SpaceFactory two years ago with the mission to transform how we build on Earth and beyond. A place where the best architects on this planet can become the architects of another.
Building on another planet is not just a design or a technology problem: it is a construction problem. AI SpaceFactory brings together design and engineering services, materials R&D, and autonomous manufacturing technologies to construct habitats and surface infrastructure—on and beyond Earth. We are on a path to become the first multi-planetary building company.
How did the idea of AI SpaceFactory come about and how did you get it started?
Most of us come from a background in designing skyscrapers. Collectively we worked on 3 of the 10 tallest towers on the planet at our old firm. It's work we are still doing and pursuing to new heights at AI SpaceFactory.
The key moment which really changed things for me was watching SpaceX land the Falcon 9 on a floating drone barge. I had to be a part of that. That was April 8, 2016. Within a year, several of us left the old firm and founded AI SpaceFactory with the goal of becoming the architects of the future: and you can’t build the future with bricks and mortar.
From day one, we understood our mission revolved around developing technologies to enable future buildings. Today, AI SpaceFactory is as much a technology company as we are an architectural practice. Those two pursuits came together in our first space project, MARSHA.
Why is the problem you are solving important?
The biggest obstacle to building in space is that construction materials are extremely expensive to launch. At a cost of $100 million to land a 5-ton lunar payload, an average Earth home weighing 50-tons would cost one billion dollars and require 10 roundtrips to the Moon to deliver. For the same weight, we might land 50 robotic rovers and build a lunar outpost if we learn to harvest materials from the surface.
Building in Space is also dangerous. The surface of the Moon is covered in a fine layer of Moon dust made of sharp, microscopic grains which can slice into an astronaut’s lung if breathed in too deeply. With no atmosphere to protect the surface from constant bombardment by solar winds, Moon dust can become electrostatically charged and cling to equipment and spacesuits. Building on the Moon is like working on a construction site with super-charged asbestos. It is work better suited to robots than humans.
AI SpaceFactory’s technology uses Lunar/Martian relevant materials as the feedstock to robotically 3D print buildings and infrastructure. The use of in-situ resources coupled with autonomous construction allows us to build up structures, layer by layer, safely and efficiently.
Buildings such as our proposed Mars Habitat, Marsha, are one possible outcome—but we also need to consider surface infrastructure. It is likely the first things AI SpaceFactory builds on the Moon and Mars are the roads, landing pads, and hangers needed to support landing of heavier rockets and equipment. Proving out our technology on non-life supporting systems will provide the foundation to develop more complex structures, such as Marsha and other habitats.
"Our technology is unlocking new and sustainable ways to build here, now, on this planet."
Colonization of the Moon and Mars will pave the way to deep space exploration and provide access to energy and resources. Planet Earth has a finite amount of resources and we have already brought our climate to a tipping point; yet, a third of the planet lives in substandard housing. The technologies AI SpaceFactory is developing for Space just might transform how we build on Earth.
In testing for NASA, we validated the use of biopolymer and basalt composites as a super-strong construction material. These materials are in abundance on Earth and are more sustainable alternatives to concrete and steel, which generate 9% of global carbon emissions. A lot of testing remains to be done, but we can see how our technology is unlocking new and sustainable ways to build here, now, on this planet.
Continued in Part 2