Scientific challenge

Scientific challenge

The artist has conceived Vitae in 2 main parts:
– The “Cocoon” on which will be engraved the « handprints of humanity » collected through exhibitions and social network.
– The “People” – symbol of a united humanity. Shape memory material tested in space.

Captures of the Sun rays  sends back a beam of light in order to make the sculpture visible from the Earth at selected times.

The amplitudes in temperature on the Moon vary from -170°C to +120°C between a lunar night and a lunar day.
The heat from the sun  moves the shape memory alloy structure of the sculpture.
We have made the design scaleable so the sculpture in its stowed/compressed condition can be as small as 12cm diameter by 12cm high and deposited by a rover or very large and built into its own lander.



The amplitudes in temperature on the Moon vary from -170°C to + 120°C between a lunar night and a lunar day. The onboard electronics could not survive such extreme conditions. Computer Aided Design and Thermal simulations helped to validate solutions to meet that challenge.



Optical simulations have been used in an attempt to capture and focus solar beams of light in order to collect solar energy and power the onboard electronics.



The Sculpture is deployed on the Moon surface thanks to natural resources only.  Built mostly with Shape Memory Materials , the Sculpture opens thanks to the Sun heat. Mechanical simulations helped to validate Shape Memory Materials behavior in lunar conditions.



Before sending the sculpture to the moon and deploying it, we decided to carry out a test on Low Earth Orbit, aboard the International Space Station.
 As well as being symbolic and inspiring, the test will demonstrate the performance of the scupture ‘s deployment in microgravity.

This is the “living” material that will form the main “skeleton” of the Dish/Cocoon, and probably the People too, that make up the lunar sculpture.

Detailed information on the NASA website.

We delivered the sculpture to the ISS via the Nanoracks ”DreamUp” program.
In this program, a small box (typically a 10 cm cube with a mass of no more than 1kg) containing the experiment has been transported to the ISS and the experiment has beeb carried out by an ISS crew member : the European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet ! The immediate step called V-III wass to deploy a shape memory alloy/Mylar sculpture in microgravity.

More technical informations

The Dragon cargo carried about 7 metric tons of cargo in its pressurized compartment. That cargo included supplies for the station’s crew as well as hardware and experiments, including Vitae III.
The Houston-based NanoRacks received the Flight Model Vitae III that successfully passed Electromagnetic Interference tests, and NASA Flight Safety Review.
The Flight Model can be squeezed into a100x100x100mm box.
When deployed, it is around 450mm diameter, and its mass is about 120g.

We set a project goal to create a reliably-deployable sculpture that could expand from 95mm diameter to 450mm diameter.

Shape memory alloy is very flexible and plastic when “cold”, and so it can be compressed into a very small space.  Once heated (beyond about 40C) it begins to become stiffer, and returns to its original shape.
Heating the structure on board the ISS to deploy the sculpture was a major challenge. The microgravity environment means that there is no significant convection to help transfer heat-transfer is predominantly via internal “Joule heating” in the wire, and conduction through the material.  We also had to be careful not to have too much heat on the space station, so we had to choose suitable materials and electrical power.
This was the first time that a self-deploying, “living” sculpture has been placed in orbit, to our knowledge.