NASA Challenges Designers to Construct Habitat for Deep Space Exploration
Andrew Wheeler posted on May 19, 2015 |
New contest for developing 3D printing habitats on Earth and Mars

Do you think you could come up with a way to design and build a 3-D printed habitat for deep space exploration?  If so, you’re in luck.  NASA and the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, also known as America Makes, are holding a new $2.25 million competition to do just that. 

With a manned trip to Mars in their sites, the multi-phase 3-D Printed Habitat Challenge is designed to push the capabilities of additive construction technology past the point where it can reliably create sustainable housing solutions for Earth as well.

Shelter would be among the most basic elements necessary for a sustained and manned exploration of Mars, and being able to send up a standalone robotic 3D printer capable of building a sturdy shelter out of oxidized iron dust is certainly a challenge. I'm sure any astronauts heading to Mars would appreciate the extra cargo space for life-sustaining provisions.  Manufacturing a habitat using indigenous materials as well as waste material from the spacecraft would prove invaluable.    

The first phase of the competition was announced Saturday at the Bay Area Maker Faire in San Mateo, California, and it runs through Sept. 27.  This is the design portion of the competition, and it calls on participants to develop “state-of-the-art architectural concepts that take advantage of the unique capabilities 3-D printing offers”. The top 30 submissions will be judged and a prize purse of $50,000 will be awarded at the 2015 World Maker Faire in New York.

"The future possibilities for 3-D printing are inspiring, and the technology is extremely important to deep space exploration," said Sam Ortega, Centennial Challenges program manager. "This challenge definitely raises the bar from what we are currently capable of, and we are excited to see what the maker community does with it."

The second phase of the competition has two levels. In Level 1, the Structural Member Competition focuses on the fabrication technologies necessary to manufacture structural components from a combination of indigenous materials and recyclables, or indigenous Mars materials alone. The On-Site Habitat Competition (Level 2) challenges competitors to fabricate full-scale habitats using indigenous materials or indigenous materials combined with recyclables. Each level opens for registration Sept. 26, and both carry a $1.1 million prize.

Winning concepts and products will help NASA build the technical expertise to send habitat-manufacturing machines to distant destinations, such as Mars, to build shelters for the human explorers who follow. On Earth, these capabilities may be used one day to construct affordable housing in remote locations with limited access to conventional building materials.

"America Makes is honored to be a partner in this potentially revolutionary competition," said Ralph Resnick, founding director of America Makes. "We believe that 3D printing/Additive Manufacturing has the power to fundamentally change the way people approach design and construction for habitats, both on earth and off, and we are excitedly awaiting submissions from all types of competitors."

America Makes is a public/private partnership of organizations focused on accelerating the capabilities and adoption of additive manufacturing technology.

The Centennial Challenges Program is managed at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama for the agency's Space Technology Mission Directorate in Washington.

For more information about the 3-D-Printed Habitat Challenge, visit this website, on planet Earth, right now.  

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