NASA Chooses Five Winners in BIM Challenge for Martian Housing
Emily Pollock posted on August 02, 2018 |
In the event of a manned Mars mission, the first landers would face inhospitable conditions. NASA’sHabitat Centennial Challenge is aimed at designing structures to help them survive.(Image courtesy of USGS Astrogeology Center.)
In the event of a manned Mars mission, the first landers would face inhospitable conditions. NASA’s Habitat Centennial Challenge is aimed at designing structures to help them survive. (Image courtesy of USGS Astrogeology Center.)

This week, NASA announced the five finalists in its challenge to design 3D-printed habitations for Mars. These finalists will move on to the next stage of the challenge, which involves building physical models of their designs, and will share a $100,000 prize.

The Habitat Centennial Challenge began back in 2014, as part of an effort to envision what life might look like for the first colonists to reach Mars. Two phases of the challenge are already finished: Phase 1, where teams had to submit architectural renderings, was completed in 2015 and Phase 2, where teams had to submit structural/material components appropriate for building on Mars, was completed in 2017. In Phase 3, teams must fabricate actual models, starting with a digital BIM model.

Participants were asked to submit models for buildings that could house four people for a year, with at least 1,000 square feet of living space. The models also had to consider Martian conditions like temperature, pressure and atmosphere, and include plans for systems like life-support, electricity, plumbing and rover hatches.

“This stage of the competition asks the participants to design habitats that will combine shelter with critical survival systems,” said Monsi Roman, the program manager for the Centennial Challenges Program. “We are asking them to look beyond the physical structure into the needs of our future explorers.”

Houses designed by Zopherus, to be 3D printed and deposited by the roving lander, pictured at right. (Image courtesy of NASA.)
Houses designed by Zopherus, to be 3D printed and deposited by the roving lander, pictured at right. (Image courtesy of NASA.)

First place went to Arkansas-based Zopherus, which designed a large lander meant to “crawl” around until it finds a suitable place to start building. Once it’s found an appropriate location, the lander will seal itself, print the house inside of it, then deposit the house on the ground and “crawl” away to find a new building spot. You might compare the lander to a spider laying enormous, livable eggs.

AI SpaceFactory’s cylindrical Marsha design. (Image courtesy of NASA.)
AI SpaceFactory’s cylindrical Marsha design. (Image courtesy of NASA.)

In second place was New York’s AI SpaceFactory, with its Marsha (MARS HAbitat) design. Marsha's double-shelled structure protects inhabitants from pressure and temperature extremes, and its smokestack-like design is apparently the result of multiple efficiency studies on usable floor area. The final design will be made from basalt harvested from the planet's surface and thermoplastic brought from Earth.

Albert Kahn Associates is famous for its Detroit landmarks, but the firm’s latest design is built for Martian soil. (Image courtesy of NASA.)
Albert Kahn Associates is famous for its Detroit landmarks, but the firm’s latest design is built for Martian soil. (Image courtesy of NASA.)

A team-up from Detroit's Albert Kahn Associates and W. G. Yates & Sons Construction Co. (of Jackson, Miss.) took third place. The team focused extensively on livability, from an on-site lab and garden to the high-strength plastic layer that lets light in to the habitat.

SEArch+/Apis Cor. (Image courtesy of NASA.)
SEArch+/Apis Cor. (Image courtesy of NASA.)

The fourth-place design, submitted by New York’s SEArch+/Apis Cor, wouldn’t look out of place on the set of a Star Wars movie. The company’s visually striking plan has two separate living areas, one for sleeping and one for working, and is built to reduce the chance of radiation damage while making use of sunlight.

Northwestern University of Evanston’s design is one of the most practicalin the contest. (Image courtesy of NASA.)
Northwestern University of Evanston’s design is one of the most practicalin the contest. (Image courtesy of NASA.)

The Illinois-based Northwestern University of Evanston took fifth place with its design, which featured a spherical house within a protective outer dome. Construction of the habitat would be completed by an autonomous robot, which would put up an inflatable vessel to be reinforced by cross-beams.

In the next stage of this phase, teams will be asked to construct a 1/3 scale model of their designs, which are to be built in a competition in 2019. According to Bradley College, NASA’s partner in the challenge, teams that do not have access to a large 3D printer will be working with businesses that have such printers for the final leg of the journey.

No matter how the individual teams do in the next round, the different takes on a livable Martian home have enriched NASA’s thinking, and our own imaginations. "We are thrilled to see the success of this diverse group of teams that have approached this competition in their own unique styles," said Roman. "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."


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