May 17, 2015 | By Simon

Among all of the recent developments in 3D printing, few are perhaps as exciting as the developments that have been made to allow astronauts the ability to manufacture their own parts, tools and other physical objects while on space missions.  

Starting with the launch of the Zero-G Printer by Made in Space, which  is the first 3D printer designed to operate in zero gravity and was launched into orbit on September 21, 2014, the developments for 3D printing in space have included everything from a collection of sample tools and test parts to even an emailed file of a wrench from Earth.  

Now, NASA has extended their lofty goals of manufacturing in space and are looking into not only what can be done with 3D printing tools and parts - but also livable habitats.  

The space organization, along with the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (AKA America Makes), have announced that they are offering $2.25 million in prizes for those who enter the 3D Printed Habitat Challenge, a challenge to design and build a 3D printed habitat for deep space exploration, including the agency’s journey to Mars.

Considering the importance of shelter as a basic human need - especially in wildly unpredictable conditions - it makes sense that NASA would want to look into crowdsourcing ideas for deep space living environments.  Among other benefits of adding additive manufacturing to the mix include the ability to produce habitable structures without the need to ship the equipment necessary for building a habitat miles from Earth.   

The multi-phase Habitat Challenge, which was announced at the Bay Area Maker Faire in San Mateo, California on May 16th, will begin with a first phase that runs through September 27th.  The goal of the first phase is for those participating to help develop futuristic architectural concepts that make use of additive manufacturing technologies.  The top 30 submissions will be judged and a prize purse of $50,000 will be awarded at the 2015 World Maker Faire in New York, which runs from September 26th to the 27th.

Once the 30 winners have been chosen, a second phase of the competition will begin which will be divided into two levels with each carrying a $1.1 million prize.  The first level - The Structural Member Competition (Level 1) - will focus on fabrication technologies with a focus on using a combination of indigenous materials and recyclables, or indigenous materials alone.  The second level - On-Site Habitat Competition (Level 2) - focuses on creating full-scale habitats using indigenous materials or indigenous materials combined with recyclables.   

“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 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.”

The winning concepts from the challenge will help NASA build the technical expertise to plan and ultimately, send the habitats into deep space for exploration purposes in the not-too-distant future.  

“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.”

For those interested in creating a 3D printable habitat, NASA has launched the competition website where you can find more information on the rules as well as an entry form.  



Posted in 3D Printing Events


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Oliver wrote at 5/18/2015 1:30:13 PM:

Article might want to note that you need to be based in the USA to be eligible for any of the prizes, and that you need to have a $100,000 insurance policy in effect. A real shame, as otherwise i would have definitely entered.

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