NASA has kicked off a $2.25m competition to design and build a 3D printed habitat for deep space exploration, including the agency’s journey to Mars.
In collaboration with National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, known as America Makes, the design challenge is intended to advance the construction technology needed to create sustainable housing solutions both on Earth and in space.
"Shelter is among the most basic and crucial human needs," said NASA. "but 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 indigenous materials, combined with material that would otherwise be waste from the spacecraft, would be invaluable."
The competition is split into two phases. The first runs until 27 September and calls on participants to develop architectural concepts that take advantage of 3D printing capabilities. The top 30 submissions will be judged and a prize of $50,000 will be awarded to the winner.
The competition’s second phase is split into two parts. One focuses on the fabrication techniques needed to manufacture the habitations and the second challenges designers to fabricate full-scale habitats. Entries open in September and each phase carry awards of $1.1m each.
"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 designs could be used on Earth, to one day construct affordable housing in remote locations with limited access to conventional building materials.