NASA awards $100,000 for 3D-printed space habitat challenge

WASHINGTON: Two teams in the US have won awards worth $100,000 for completing the first stage of NASA’s 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge, which is aimed at creating living spaces to house astronauts in alien worlds.

The top scoring team Foster+Partners of Branch Technology of Chattanooga, Tennessee earned $85,930, while the second top-scorer team from University of Alaska bagged $14,070.

A total of seven teams are working on new technology that could someday be used to build space habitats from materials on other worlds.

They completed the first printing segment of the 3D- Printed Habitat Challenge that is run through a partnership with NASA’s Centennial Challenges Programme and Bradley University in the US.

The goal of the challenge is to foster the development of technologies to manufacture a habitat using local indigenous materials with, or without, recyclable materials.

The vision is that autonomous machines will someday be deployed in deep space destinations, including Mars, to construct shelters for human habitation.

On Earth, these capabilities could be used to produce affordable housing wherever it is needed or where access to conventional building materials and skills are limited.

“Seeing tangible, 3D-printed objects for this phase makes the goals of this challenge more conceivable than ever,” said Monsi Roman, program manager of Centennial Challenges.

“This is the first step toward building an entire habitat structure, and the potential to use this technology to aid human exploration to new worlds is thrilling,” Roman said.

The Level 1 Compression Test Competition is the first of three sub-competitions within Phase 2. For this stage, teams were tasked with developing 3D-printable materials, using a 3 -D printer, and printing two samples – a truncated cone and a cylinder.

Judges evaluated results from lab tests performed on the samples to determine a score.

In addition to the two teams that earned prize money, the other teams participating were: Bubble Base of Winston-Salem, North Carolina; Pennsylvania State University of University Park; CTL Group Mars of Skokie, Illinois; ROBOCON of Singapore; and Moon X Construction of Seoul, South Korea.

The teams showcased a variety of approaches, ranging from traditional cement to exotic cellular structures.

Teams will now work toward the Level 2 Beam Member Competition, where they must print a beam to be tested. New teams may enter the competition if they can meet minimum requirements.
The 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge comprises three phases: Phase 1, the Design Competition, was completed in 2015. Phase 2, the Structural Member Competition, which carries a $1.1 million prize and focuses on the material technologies needed to create structural components.
Phase 3 of the On-Site Habitat Competition has a $1.4 million prize and focuses on fabrication technologies.