Ice House wins NASA’s 3-D Printed Habitat Challenge
One of the challenges of sending humans to Mars is providing a habitat on the planet’s surface that will shield astronauts from radiation and extremely low temperatures. One strategy that has been proposed is 3-D printing a habitat out of materials available on Mars. Earlier this year, NASA’s Centennial Challenges program announced a 3-D habitat contest in conjunction with the industry group America Makes. NASA awarded prize money to the top three teams in the first stage of the 3-D Habitat Design Challenge at the World Maker Faire in New York on Sunday, September 27.
Over 165 submissions were made and 30 finalists had their designs displayed and judged at the Maker Faire event. The $25,000 first prize was awarded to Team Space Exploration Architecture and Clouds Architecture Office for their design Ice House. Team Gamma won the second prize of $15,000 and also received the People’s Choice Award. Team LavaHive took third place.
“The creativity and depth of the designs we’ve seen have impressed us,” said Centennial Challenges Program Manager Monsi Roman. “These teams were not only imaginative and artistic with their entries, but they also really took into account the life-dependent functionality our future space explorers will need in an off-Earth habitat.”
Each of the top three designs took a different approach to utilizing materials available on Mars. All of the design would use robots in the construction process.
The Ice House design capitalized on the presence of water on Mars and persistent low temperatures at northern latitudes to create a pressurized, multi-layered radiation shell of ice that surrounds gardens and a lander habitat within. The translucent ice shell also allows in natural light.
Team Gamma’s design would employ a semi-autonomous, multi-robot regolith additive manufacturing (RAM) system to make a protective shield around a modular inflatable habitat. The habitat would be comprised of three inflatable dodecahedral modules.
Team LavaHive’s design combines a novel “lava-casting” technique with the use of recycled spacecraft materials and structured. The back shell of the Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL) systems that will deliver the construction rovers to the surface will be used as the roof, with an inflatable module beneath as the primary living habitat.
The competition’s next phase is divided into two levels. The Structural Member Competition focuses on developing technologies needed to make structural components from indigenous materials and recyclables. The On-Site Habitat Competition will challenge teams to fabricate full-scale habitats. Both levels of the competition opened for registration on September 26 and each will award a cash prize of $1.1 million.
Jim Sharkey is a lab assistant, writer and general science enthusiast who grew up in Enid, Oklahoma, the hometown of Skylab and Shuttle astronaut Owen K. Garriott. As a young Star Trek fan he participated in the letter-writing campaign which resulted in the space shuttle prototype being named Enterprise. While his academic studies have ranged from psychology and archaeology to biology, he has never lost his passion for space exploration. Jim began blogging about science, science fiction and futurism in 2004. Jim resides in the San Francisco Bay area and has attended NASA Socials for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover landing and the NASA LADEE lunar orbiter launch.