NASA Unveils 3-D Printed Habitat Challenge

May 24, 2015

NASA 3-D Printed Habitat Challenge seeks to use indigenous materials to build shelters in deep space

NASA has announced its 3-D Printed Habitat Challenge, a competition to create 3D printed space habitats for future interplanetary travelers. The program co-ordinates with the interest that people like Richard Branson and Elon Musk have in colonizing Mars. A total of $2.25 million in prizes is on offer, reports First Post.

The heart of the program is figuring out how to use indigenous materials available on other planets or celestial bodies to make 3D printed shelters. If NASA can avoid bringing all those materials from Earth, it will save having to lift hundreds of tons of building supplies into space. In theory, all a space mission would need is a 3D printer and locally available soil to create something like this 3D printed sustainable home.

3-D Printed HomeThe ability to manufacture a habitat using indigenous materials, combined with material that would otherwise be waste from the spacecraft, would be invaluable, NASA said. “The future possibilities for 3-D printing are inspiring, and the technology is extremely important to deep space exploration,” said Sam Ortega, NASA’s 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 first phase of the competition, sponsored by NASA and the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, is a design competition that runs through 27 September. Contestants will develop state-of-the-art architectural concepts that take advantage of the unique capabilities of 3-D printing. The top 30 submissions will be judged and the winner will receive a $50,000 prize at the 2015 World Maker Faire in New York.

The second phase of the competition is divided into two parts. The Structural Member Competition focuses on the fabrication technologies needed to manufacture structural components from a combination of indigenous materials and recyclables, or indigenous materials alone. The On-Site Habitat Competition challenges competitors to fabricate full scale habitats using indigenous materials or indigenous materials combined with recyclables. Both will open for registration on 26 September, and each carries a $1.1 million prize.

Winning concepts and products will help NASA build the technical expertise to send machines to distant destinations, such as Mars, to build shelters for the human explorers who follow. One benefit for people here on Earth is that the techniques created by the contestants may one day be used to construct affordable housing in remote locations that have limited access to conventional building materials.

Photo Credits: NASA/Inhabitat


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Stephen Hanley

lives in Rhode Island and writes about topics at the convergence of technology and ecology. You can follow him on Google + and Twitter.