NASA and America Makes (the National Additive Manufacturing Institute) are holding a competition to design and build a 3D printed habitat for deep space exploration, including the agency's planned journey to Mars. The contest has been dubbed the 3-D Printed Habitat Challenge and it is part of NASA's Centennial Challenges program. The winner will receive $2.25 million.
The competition is intended to advance the additive construction technology needed to resolve the issues of sustainable housing on Earth and other worlds.
Carrying the construction materials required to build a habitat on a distant planet as cargo would be impractical, because such a large portion of the space vessel would be dedicated to storing provisions for the long voyage. NASA hopes to solve the issue via 3D printing with materials taken from the local environment, possibly mixed with waste from the spacecraft.
Scale shouldn't be an issue. Systems capable of printing home-sized buildings already exist on earth, such as those made by Contour Crafting and Winsun. Coming up with material mixture options could be trickier.
"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."
Phase one of the competition is the design phase and runs through Sept. 27. Participants are expected to develop state-of-the-art architectural concepts that take advantage of 3D printing. The top 30 submissions will be judged and a $50,000 prize will be awarded at the 2015 Maker Faire in New York.
The second phase is divided into two parts. The Structural Member Competition focuses on the fabrication technologies needed to manufacture structural components. The On-Site Habitat Competition asks competitors to fabricate full-scale habitats. This phase opens for registration Sept. 26 and winners for each of the two parts will be awarded $1.1 million.
"America Makes is honored to be a partner in this potentially revolutionary competition," said Ralph Resnick, founding director of America Makes. "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."