NASA is taking an interesting approach towards designing homes for Mars. The United States space agency created a competition where various organizations would design 3D printed homes that could house astronauts who were landing on the planet.
3D-Printed Habitat Challenge
The competition’s second phase began in October 2016, when registration opened for participants to enter. Participants would have to create 3D printed martian homes that would be able to house life and survive on the planet. The Habitat Challenge cost a total of $3.15 million.
Within the second phase, NASA had 18 teams that were each designed with creating a virtual model of the 3D printed martian home they believed would be the best way for people to survive on the planet. And by the end of that phase, five winners would be chosen, with each winner receiving $20,000!
Robot-Built 3D-Printed Homes
Every aspect of this process involves technology that is on the cutting edge. Not only are the homes 3D printed, but they would theoretically be built on Mars by a robot. NASA envisions a timeline where a robot would be sent to Mars with the purpose of building those homes. When the homes are ready, astronauts could make the journey.
A Centennial Challenges Project Manager at NASA, Monsi Roman, said that such a project was probably not going to see fruition until 2030. That is the earliest the agency can see 3D-printed homes on Mars. But it is possible that a home that eventually wins this competition is built on the moon first.
The 3D printed Martian homes that competition participants were directed to design had some requirements. Building Information Modeling software was used to ensure that every functional structure within the home was mapped out in precise detail. For instance, a project could not say that it would have 2D walls made out of some unknown material.
Every aspect of the home, from the thickness of the walls to the pressure sealing to the air filtering elements, must be part of the design. Without such information, it was not possible for a team to reach the next phase of the competition.
The homes must also have a minimum of 1000 square feet in space. The idea is to have four or five people living there for a year, along with the necessary machines and other items they would bring with them. And the 3D-printed martian homes must be autonomously constructed, as mentioned earlier.
Five Winning Teams
The five teams that managed to win $20,000 each through the 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge include Zopherus, AI SpaceFactory, Kahn-Yates, SEArch+/Apis Cor and Northwestern University.
Online videos are available showing the design and various features of the homes designed by these teams. And while it is easy to dismiss the designs as futuristic or science fiction, each team took into account real-world factors that would be necessary for a home in Mars.
Real Work Begins Now
The next phase of the competition is possibly the most challenging. Each team must take their concept and turn it into a reality. NASA is expecting every team to have a custom 3D printer that works and can print out a 1:3 scale model of the habitat they designed.
It will be interesting to see what team comes out on top when it is time to showcase a real “print out” of the design. Many experts believe that teams such as Northwestern, which went for a simpler design, will have an easier time. In comparison, teams such as Kahn-Yates and SEArch+/Apis went for more complex designs that will be a significant challenge to print.