NASA, along with the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute — known as America Makes — are holding a $2.25 million competition to design and build a 3D-printed habitat for deep space exploration, including NASA’s journey to Mars.
The multi-phase 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge is part of NASA's Centennial Challenges program. The competition is aimed at advancing the additive construction technology needed to create sustainable housing solutions for Earth and beyond.
Packing enough materials and equipment to build a habitat on a distant planet would take up valuable cargo space that could be used for other life-sustaining provisions. The ability to manufacture a habitat using found materials, combined with material that would otherwise be waste from the spacecraft, would be invaluable.
On Saturday, the first competition phase was launched at the Bay Area Maker Faire in San Mateo, California, and will run through September 27. This phase focuses on design and encourages participants to create state-of-the-art architectural concepts that use 3D printing capabilities. The top 30 submissions will be judged and a prize purse of $50,000 will be awarded at the 2015 World Maker Faire in New York.
"The future possibilities for 3D printing are inspiring, and the technology is extremely important to deep space exploration," said Sam Ortega, 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 second phase of the competition is comprised of two levels: The Structural Member Competition (Level 1) focuses on fabrication technologies needed to manufacture structural components from a combination of indigenous materials and recyclables, or indigenous materials alone. The On-Site Habitat Competition (Level 2) challenges competitors to actually build full-scale habitats using indigenous materials and/or recyclables. Both levels open for registration September 26, and each offer a $1.1 million prize.
Winning concepts and products will help NASA build the technical expertise to send habitat-manufacturing machines to other planets to build shelters for future human explorers. On Earth, these capabilities may be used one day to construct affordable housing in remote locations with limited access to conventional building materials.
"America Makes is honored to be a partner in this potentially revolutionary competition," said founding director Ralph Resnick. "We believe that 3D printing/Additive Manufacturing has the power to fundamentally change the way people approach design and construction for habitats, both on earth and off, and we are excitedly awaiting submissions from all types of competitors."
As the potential for 3D printing continues to be explored, companies in a variety of industries are getting into the game. Last June, Coke’s upcycled lifestyle brand EKOCYCLE released the EKOCYCLE CUBE — a home 3D printer that upcycles post-consumer plastic bottles into items of your design. In October,Biome Bioplastics launched a new plant-based material for the 3D printing industry; and in November, Lyf Shoes founder Aly Khalifa discussed the company's efforts to build a customized 3D-printing service for shoemaking whereby customers can build their own shoes, from the design and look to the actual fit, which can be optimized using data tracking.