NASA has opened up “phase 2” of their 3D Printed Habitat Challenge.
NASA’s role is to provoke technological progress in aerospace and one of the ways they’ve been doing so lately is by means of public challenges. These are essentially contests that are inexpensive (for NASA) to run and involve far more people than you’d expect to participate with a conventional bid process.
You also expect to see some off-the-wall radical ideas that might never see the light of day unless this kind of ideation process was used.
The challenge in this case is to develop a practical design for a 3D printed habitat that could be actually used on other worlds such as Mars and our own Moon using local materials. The thinking is that it would be less expensive to ship a 3D printer and use local materials rather than ship the building materials from Earth.
Phase 1 has been completed and focused on development of architectural designs that leverage 3D printing processes. Some 30 winners were chosen and announced late last year.
Now Phase 2 is open, in which applicants must try to:
Demonstrate a recycling system that can create structural components using terrestrial and space-based materials and recyclables.
So this isn’t the design of the habitat, rather it’s the “how do you make the habitat” part. Also, the habitat will be built “semi autonomously”, thus some level of automation in the process is required.
There is a Phase 3 that will involve actually fabricating the habitats using the selected technologies and designs.
Phase 2 is broken up into three “levels”:
- Level 1, Truncated Cone & Cylinder: Requires a cone slump test and compression test to specified parameters by March 31, 2017.
- Level 2, Beam Member: Requires a flexural test to qualify for level 3 by May 31, 2017.
- Level 3, Head to Head: Requires a successful print of a specified dome structure during a competition between August 24-27, 2017.
The project is open to any US citizen or permanent resident or entity legally incorporated in the US. You must enter by March 31, 2017 to participate in any competition level. There are very extensive rules for participation you should review.
I’m quite interested to see what comes of this competition, as the winners will no doubt spur some fascinating future space exploration, but all of the entries have the potential to become viable 3D printing technologies usable in other areas of industry. We may even see a practical building printer come from this event.