NASA Plants Sustainability Base On Planet Earth


NASA’s new office in San Jose is said to be the US government’s most sustainable building

As NASA’s space programme winds down with the final mission of the Space Shuttle Atlantis, the US space agency is looking to the future with a totally sustainable building, on planet Earth, NASA’s Sustainability Base.

The office building is designed to be a model of eco-friendly architecture and technology, and each part of the building is said to perform an environmental function.

Green Building

Now NASA is not usually associated with being kind to the environment (consider the carbon emissions of those booster rockets for example), but one of the really interesting thing about the  NASA’s Sustainability Base is that it will be one of a few structures in California that can generate more electricity than it consumes.

So what exactly is it? Well the 50,000-square-foot space-age building is located at NASA’s Ames Research Centre in Silicon Valley near San Jose, and it incorporates technology used by astronauts, in that it will capture used water from showers and sinks, and then treat it before sending it to urinals and toilets.

Meanwhile the grass on the lawn will be irrigated with water from a contaminated groundwater treatment plant instead of drinkable water. Native plants will be used to filter contaminants out of rainwater before it enters main water drain system.

The two story, two wing building will also consume 90 percent less drinkable water than conventional buildings of comparable size.

The building itself is in the final stages of construction and should be opened in mid July.

Recycled Material

Other nifty green features include the fact that about 92 percent of the waste created during construction was either recycled or disposed in an environmentally friendly way. Building materials such as steel etc were sourced locally to reduce emissions from transportation.

The building itself also uses recycled glass, carpeting and furniture. The flooring is oak that was salvaged from a decommissioned wind tunnel facility.

The building can house 220 office workers, and it is designed to allow more natural light and air inside, thanks to the extensive use of skylights. This coupled with reflective white walls means that overhead lights will be needed for only 40 weekdays a year, NASA said.

But in sunny California, power hungry air conditioning is normally a big environmental cost – and  NASA is using a computer controlled system of temperature and environmental sensors to reduce that.

The building’s liquid cooling system contains an estimated 5,000 light, heat and carbon dioxide sensors. When these sensors detect that the building is too warm, they will activate a nearby underground geothermal well system that helps pump water through copper tubing snaking through the ceiling. This liquid cools the surrounding air.

The roof of the building (and even patio umbrellas) are covered with photovoltaic solar panels, and it is thought that methane gas captured from landfills will eventually provide other energy needs. In the meantime it will utilise a fuel cell from Bloom Energy for its power needs.

A centralised computer inside the building either opens or closes windows, adjust lightening levels, or lowers or raises window shades, depending on the weather conditions.

NASA also said its design would make it one of the safest structures in an earthquake.

Other Initiatives

You might imagine that such a building would costs a great deal of money – but apparently, compared to other buildings of a similar size, NASA’s Sustainability Base will only be about 6 percent more expensive to construct. And NASA believes it can recoup this extra expense within a decade because the building will cost less to operate.

Meanwhile the Space Agency is tackling other green concepts as it heads towards an uncertain future.

In its data centres, it is moving from using server hardware on open shelves to rack-mounted server hardware with cooling racks designed to promote airflow.

It has also got rid of all monitors connected to individual servers, and has aggressively used virtualisation to reduce the number of servers it  requires.

While the green future beckons, NASA has this week been doing what it does best. In the payload of its final mission, there was an iPhoneand an Android device.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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