Last week, NASA, in collaboration with Bradley University, awarded five teams a total of $100,000 in the first level of the third phase of its 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge. At this level, the competitors were asked to design a 1,000-square-foot living space that would support four astronauts over a one-year mission on Mars. Using BIM software tools, the winning teams demonstrated the physical and functional characteristics of their proposed Martian habitation modules and split the prize based on scores assigned by a panel of subject matter experts from NASA, academia, and industry, according to a NASA press release.
“We are thrilled to see the success of this diverse group of teams that have approached this competition in their own unique styles,” said Monsi Roman, program manager for NASA’s Centennial Challenges. “They are not just designing structures, they are designing habitats that will allow our space explorers to live and work on other planets. We are excited to see their designs come to life as the competition moves forward.”
Divided into three phases, the competition was launched in 2014 to foster the development of new technologies for creating a sustainable 3D printed Martian habitat. Last year, a team from Foster + Partners' California office, in collaboration with architectural fabricator Branch Technology, was awarded first place in the final level of Phase Two portion of the competition.
First place was awarded to a team from Rogers, Ark., for its Zopherus modular habitat. The design features an autonomous moving robot with an integrated printer chamber that seals to the ground and 3D prints hexagonal structures in its pressurized interior cabin, using materials extracted from the Martian surface, all without any human interference.
The second place went to New York–based AI. SpaceFactory for its Marsha habitat, a vertical, double-shell, cylindrical structure 3D printed with "a vertically telescoping arm attached to a stationary rover," according to the team's website. By mixing basalt fiber extracted from Martian rocks with biodegradable thermoplastic derived from plants grown on Mars, the team has developed a recyclable printing material.
A team made up of Detroit-based architecture firm Albert Kahn Associates and Jackson, Miss., office of Yates Construction came in third place with a proposal designed to withstand the red planet's inhabitable climate and dust storms. The proposal features a five-axis print arm that would extend from the top of a prefabricated core to print the module's foundation and perforated concrete shell using local materials. Concurrently, secondary printing nozzles will begin making a protective shell using high-density, petroleum-based polyethlene thermoplastic that is known for its high strength-to-density ratio.
New York–based Space Exploration Architecture (SEArch+) and Russian hardware startup Apis Cor were awarded the fourth place for their X-House proposal, a dual-shell housing module inspired by Alvar Aalto's Church of the Assumption of Mary, in Riola di Vergato, Italy. Constructed from materials harvested from the Martian surface, the X-House is designed to protect the residents from galactic cosmic radiation.
The fifth place was awarded to a team from Northwestern University, in Evanston, Ill., for its straightforward 3D-printing process. The housing pod features an inflatable, dome-shaped pressure vessel that provides the form over which the 3D printer will output an outer parabolic dome.
This story has been updated.