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NASA Selects 3D Printed Habitat Challenge Design Winners

Even if you don’t follow science and technology news that closely, Mars has received lots of media attention. It seems as though the Red Planet may yet hold some liquid water, which opens up new avenues of scientific inquiry on Mars. The only way to find all the answers will be to eventually visit the planet itself.

NASA is preparing for that possibility and one of its preparations is a design contest held in cooperation with America Makes. The 3D Printed Habitat Challenge asked engineers and designers to develop a habitat that could be built on Mars using local materials and additive manufacturing (AM). Winners of the design portion of the contest were announced in late September at the New York Maker Faire.

This elegant design uses ice to encapsulate a Martian habitat. Courtesy of NASA.

Named Ice House, this elegant design uses ice to encapsulate a Martian habitat. Courtesy of NASA.

A total of 30 entrants were invited to New York to attend the awards ceremony where the selection committee would announce its top 10 finalists. NASA also created a tumblr page displaying designs from the 30 finalists.

The third place award and $10,000 prize was awarded to LavaHive. The design uses AM in the form of laser sintering (which the team called “lava-casting”) to build structures using Mars regolith and mobile rover print units. The design also called for recycling leftover parts of the delivery system used to deliver the rovers to Mars to create roofing.

Second place and $15,000 was awarded to Team Gamma. The runner up design calls for a 3D printed shield to be placed around a modular inflatable habitat. The AM aspect would be conducted by semi-autonomous robots which would gather regolith to be melted into place. Team Gamma designed the three inflatable sections of the habitat to be interchangeable allowing for more flexibility in building options.

The first place award and a $25,000 prize was awarded to Team Space Exploration Architecture and Clouds Architecture Office. The recent discovery of liquid water on Mars may have helped this entry along. Rather than building a habitat out of regolith, this team decided to use ice as its material.

“The innovative structure draws on the abundance of water and persistently low temperatures in Mars’ northern latitudes to create a multi-layered pressurized radiation shell of ice that encloses a lander habitat and gardens within. A unique 3D printing technique harnesses the physics of water and its phase transition to construct ICE HOUSE.”

The next phase of the contest is the On-Site Habitat Competition and Structural Member Competition will challenge entrants to develop necessary technologies to eventually fabricate example habitats. Below you’ll find a video featuring 3D printed models of the design finalists.

Sources: NASA, The Telegraph

About John Newman

John Newman is a freelance writer in Northeast Ohio.

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