5 3D printed houses you might live in on Mars

NASA and partner Bradley University of Peoria, Illinois, have selected the top five teams the latest stage of the agency’s 3D-Printed Habitat Centennial Challenge competition, which looks for sustainable housing solutions for Earth and beyond.

Creating a structure on the surface of Mars is a challenge considering the limits on transporting materials and the differences in atmosphere and landscape. The 3D-Printed Habitat Centennial Challenge was created to help further the progression of sustainable shelters that will someday occupy the Moon, Mars, or beyond. It pushes contestants to develop new technologies capable of additively manufacturing a habitat using indigenous resources and/or recyclable materials.

The challenge consists of multiple phases. The first phase, which ran through 27 September 2015, called on designers to develop state-of-the-art architectural concepts that take advantage of the unique capabilities of 3D printing. The second phase focused on material technologies, requiring teams to create structural components, and was completed in 2017. The current phase 3 challenges competitors to fabricate sub-scale habitats.

For the latest stage, NASA selected 5 winners to share a $100,000 prize. The winning teams created digital representation of the physical and functional characteristics of a house on Mars using specialized software tools.

Team Zopherus came in first, who proposed a spider-like pod to host the 3D printing process. The idea behind the design is that the lander would scan its surroundings before selecting an optimum printing location. A series of autonomous robots would gather materials like ice, calcium oxide and aggregate to make Martian concrete for the 3D printer. The inside of the home would be made from 3D printed HPDE ((high-density polyethylene). The home would then be printed inside the pod, and after completion, the lander lifts its leg to print the next building someplace else.

Second place went to AI. SpaceFactory. They presented an egg-shapes structure with a double shell to protect against the aggressive thermal effects of Mars. Materials used in this design are also sourced from Mars and include basalt fibre, extracted from Martian rock and bioplastic derived from plants that could be grown on the planet.

Third place oblong structures, designed by Kahn-Yates Design, have a perforated, high strength plastic layer to let light in. The shape was chosen to minimise the impact from dust storms. Unlike the other two designs, this one has a prefabricated core and would arrive on the red planet within a space faring module that would split off on landing. Once landed, an integrated arm prints a concrete shell, while secondary nozzles print HPDE layers on either side of the shell.

SEArch+/Apus Cor came in fourth. Their design consists of two pods covered by a layered, thick shell that protects against radiation and is designed to withstand earthquakes. The construction is made using indigenous materials.

The last winner was a team from Northwestern University of Evanston, Illinois, who developed a spherical shell and outer parabolic dome, which are printed in tandem using Martian materials.

Renderings: Team Zopherus / AI. SpaceFactory / Kahn-Yates / SEArch+/Apis Cor / Northwestern University of Evanston