Building for Mars? NASA’s 3D-printed habitat challenge

Drive-thru:

  • NASA’s 3D printed habitat challenge is entering its final phase.
  • Five teams have been selected to continue to the construction level challenge with a deadline of December 19, 2018.
  • Finalists are expected to 3D print a one-third scale model of their habitat design and present it by early May of next year.

You may have seen Mars during its Close Approach this summer—but for many, the journey to Mars is still science fiction. NASA, however, is moving forward with plans for placing humans on the Red Planet. Right now, NASA is developing the Orion spacecraft and a deep space rocket Space Launch System (SLS) capable of taking people to Mars.

A concurrent project is developing habitats. To that end, the agency launched an international competition in 2015 to design a 3D-printable Mars habitat using on-planet (regolith) materials.

Bradley University partnered with Caterpillar, Bechtel, Brick & Mortar Ventures, and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to administer the competition along with NASA’s Centennial Challenges program.

A recap of the 3D-printed habitat Centennial Challenge

The competition was designed to take place over multiple years. Phase 1 ended in September 2015, Phase 2 in 2017, and Phase 3 is currently in progress. The total purse for the competition comes to $3.15 million, with payouts to the finalists of each phase.

Phase 3, the On-Site Habitat Competition, focuses on the design and fabrication of complete habitats. The deadline for completion is April 2019.

Each phase of the competition is comprised of multiple levels. Each level offers the chance to win a monetary prize.

  • Phase 1 was a $50,000 Design Competition, in which participants submitted architectural renderings that took advantage of 3D printing capabilities. The top 30 submissions were judged.
  • Phase 2 was a $1.1 million multi-level Structural Member Competition in which semi-finalists from Phase 1 created structural components from Earth and space-based materials and recyclables.
  • Phase 3, the On-Site Habitat Competition, focuses on the design and fabrication of complete habitats. The deadline for completion is April 2019. The winner of Phase 3 receives a $2 million prize.

Part of NASA’s Centennial Challenge program from the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD), the competition requires each habitat to have at least 1,000 square feet of living space as well as room for the equipment needed to live on Mars.

The habitats must be built as self-contained spheres in which humans could live upon landing. Click To TweetThe habitats must be built as self-contained spheres in which humans could live upon landing, and their building must be completed by machine only—without human intervention. Judging is on layout, completeness, 3D-printing feasibility, and aesthetics.

Phase 3: The On-Site Habitation Competition Finalists

Thirty finalists from Phase 1 were winnowed to 18 teams competing in the multilevel Phase 3 challenge. Phase 3 consists of two virtual levels using BIM software and three construction levels.

The provision of virtual levels allows high schools, universities, and businesses with no access to 3D printing technology to compete and perhaps join other teams in the final levels of the challenge.

Thirty finalists from Phase 1 were winnowed to 18 teams competing in the multilevel Phase 3 challenge.

The five winners of Phase 3, Level 1 to share a $100,000 prize are:

  • 1st Place: Zopherus – Rogers, Arkansas
  • 2nd Place: AI SpaceFactory – New York, New York
  • 3rd Place: Kahn-Yates – Jackson, Mississippi
  • 4th Place: SEArch+/Apis Cor – New York, New York
  • 5th Place: Northwestern University of Evanston, Illinois

The physical samples for construction level two are due December 19, 2018. In the third construction level, the challenge is to print a one-third scale model of the habitat designed in the second virtual level. This final onsite challenge takes place April 29 to May 4, 2019, in Peoria, IL.

Keep up with the 3D Habitat Challenge at NASA’s STMD Centennial Challenges page.

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