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Desert Tents, Courtesy the Space Program
Jamais Cascio, 20 Oct 05

The ESA (European Space Agency) is showing off its "Desert Seal" inflatable tent concept at the SAFE exhibit at New York's Museum of Modern Art. Desert Seal is a one-person tent made for extreme environments, and while this particular design may not be widely used, it suggests ways to build robust temporary shelters for extreme environments.

The Desert Seal uses a fan at the top of a "chimney" to pull in cool air during the day and warm air at night. The fan's battery is charged by a flexible solar panel on the top of the tent. The tent isn't based on a particular space technology, but instead comes from the use of the same design methodologies used to come up with systems for space exploration.

"To design habitation for humans on Mars, completely autonomous solutions must be found. How can a construction be extremely light and easy to transport? How can the surrounding environment be controlled?”

Although few of us will be in a situation that needs an individual desert tent, it's good to see that the people working on space survival technologies are willing and able to apply themselves to issues of Earthly survival, too.

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Burning Man shelter

Posted by: Patrick Di Justo on 20 Oct 05

They definitely did some cool things here, it's true. But I think I could've done better. For instance, once you're using an inflated-beam architecture, you might as well make the floor of the tent a built-in air mattress. Not only will this provide better sleeping ergonomics, it will help insulate the user against the hot desert ground. Secondly, the reflective shield should be a separate layer entirely, with significant air space between it and the body of the tent (like a rain-fly, but further elevated and with clear breeze pathways) so that the heat that does get absorbed & re-radiated can get carried away by wind between the shade-fly and the tent body. The tent body iself should also have the same space-blanket reflectivity, to keep itself from radiating too much heat at night.

If you really wanted to be radical, you could make the walls of the tent bladders of water. This would provide water storage (which you need in the desert anyway), would help wind-resistance (by adding mass), and would help even out daily temperature swings (because of the high thermal mass of water). Dunno if it's practical, but it'd be worth trying.

Posted by: Jeremy Faludi on 21 Oct 05



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