Sep 28, 2015 | By Kira

The ICE HOUSE 3D printed Mars habitat project has been awarded the first prize in the NASA and America Makes’ 3D Printed Habitat Challenge. Their novel and highly advanced research in using 3D printing technology and the naturally-occuring ice found on Mars comes just in time, as NASA today announced the groundbreaking discovery that flowing water has been found on the Red Planet.

It has been an exciting past few weeks in the lead up to NASA and America Makes’ 3D Printed Habitat Challenge finale. We have covered France’s SFERO concept, Foster + Partners’ autonomous robot scheme, and profiled some of the most promising finalists’ designs.  However this weekend at the World Maker Faire in New York, the highly anticipated prize went to MARS ICE HOUSE, a project developed in conjunction with the SEArch Constorium, Clouds AO, and leading scientists in astrophysics, geology, structural engineering and 3D printing technology.

The ice shell is envisioned as a series of vertically constructed nested domes, enclosed by a transparent ETFE membrane (a polymer with high corrosion resistance). It will include ‘hollowed-out’ curvaceous ice rooms that give the impression of boundless space, hydroponic greenhouse that will provide additional food and oxygen to the crew, as well as an occupiable ‘front’ yard, a unique interstitial zone where astronauts can roam freely without having to don a cumbersome EVA suit. Not only is their design scientifically and technologically sound, the designers have taken into consideration the astronauts’ psychological well-being and quality of life. “This interstitial zone space demonstrates a new, liberating and revolutionary definition of living extra-terrestrially,” said the designers, “one that celebrates the novelty and wonder of living on Mars.”

According to the ICE HOUSE team, ice is the ideal material for sustaining life on Mars. Although many previous Mars habitat designs either used regolith, the loose soil and rocks that make up the planet’s surface, as a building material, or buried the architecture underground to avoid cosmic and solar radiation, the ICE HOUSE’s 5cm ice shell protects against radiation without compromising life above ground. This is because with water’s unique absorption spectrum, it can absorb high-energy radiation levels, protecting astronauts against both ultraviolet solar and galactic gamma rays. At the same time, it allows natural light to pass through the semi-translucent walls, allowing the astronauts to adjust to natural diurnal cycles, and providing them with truly unique vistas of the Martian landscape.

“As water is the baseline resource for future outposts on a number of extra-terrestrial carbon-bodies, NASA has adopted a 'follow the water' approach towards exploration. As such, water, the essential building block of life, is our Team’s primary material resource in the formation of the ICE HOUSE habitat design,” said the developers. “Given the predicted abundance of water in certain areas on Mars, our approach takes full advantage of its properties as an indigenous material that acts both as a life-force to sustain a human and plant ecosystem, and, when 3-D printed, as our primary fabrication material.”

Of course, even though there is ice and possibly even flowing water on Mars, its phase changes are far from what we’re used to within Earth’s atmosphere. The key to harvesting and using water on Mars understands the differences between these phase changes.

The science of ice on Mars: "If the subsurface ice is exposed to the thin Martian atmosphere with pressures around 600kpA, it will immediately sublimate changing from a solid to a gaseous state and disperse into the atmosphere."

Water ice exists below the planet’s subsurface, however if that ice is exposed to the thin Martian atmosphere, it will immediately sublimate and change from a solid to a gaseous state. In order to use that ice as a 3D printing material, the ICE HOUSE team had to develop a way to turn the subsurface ice into vapor, which can be collected as liquid water, and, thanks to Mars’ frigid environment, used in the 3D printing of solid water ice structures.

Video: 3D printing Mars Ice House

The method they have developed takes advantage of 3D printing with in-situ materials, eliminating the need to bring heavy equipment, supplies, and materials from Earth. They will also utilize semi-autonomous robots and self-assembling devices to begin construction before the arrival of astronauts.

In the first stage, a Lander will descend on mars, leaving a crater in its wake and eliminating the need for excavation. Next several WaSiBos, bots engineered specifically for both sintering and ice harvesting, will drop from the Lander’s base. The iBo uses a triple nozzle to dispense a composite of water, fiber, and aerogel along layered rings, printing a spectacular light emitting lenticular form that is structurally sound, insulated and translucent. They are energy efficient, low maintenance, and designed to function in the naturally cold environment.

the iBo robot

The bots will autonomously collect ice and laser sinter regolith to provide a foundation for the ice habitat. Following the deployment of the ETFE membrane, which provides critical protection for the ice shell, the ice bots are sent into the pressurized pocket to commence the second phase of printing—that is, 3D printing with Mars’ own ice reserve. The entire structure and hydroponic garden will be completed before the crew arrives.

The units were designed specifically to be built in the Alba Mons region in Mars’ northern hemisphere, where the surface is only covered by 30cm of loose regolith, and scientists anticipate an abundance of ice and water. While the climate on Mars’ is consistently too cold for human life, the area was also selected as the temperatures remain below freezing throughout the Martian year, ensuring that the 3D printed ice houses will remain intact.

Although 3D printing with ice and ice habitats on Earth have been achieved in the past, to date, the technology has mainly been used to create novel ice cube designs. Given NASA’s incredibly exciting announcement today that flowing water has been found on Mars, these 3D printed ice houses could be one of the most influential inventions in recent aerospace design and a major step forward in getting the first humans on Mars.

The ICE HOUSE team is comprised of SEArch (Space Exploration Architecture) and Clouds AO (Clouds Architecture Office), an architecture and space research collective. Together, the team has ties to Pratt Institute, Carnegie Mellon University, Columbia University, Princeton University, and Parsons School of Design, is comprised of noted designers including: Kelsey Lents, Jeffrey Montes, Michael Morris (project team leader) and Melodie Yashar of SEArch, and Ostap Rudakevych, Masayuki Sono, and Yuko Sono of Clouds AO. Consulting on the project are twelve leading space related subject matter experts (SME’s) comprised of scientists, astrophysicists, geologists, structural and 3D printing engineers.

The $25,000 grand prize from NASA and America Makes will go towards the second phase of the competition. The first is the Structural Member Competition, and the second is an On-Site Habitat Competition, which challenges competitors to fabricate full-scale habitats. The runners-up to the competition include the Lava Hive, which won $10,000 and team Gamma, who walked away with $15,000 for further research.



Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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