Jul 10, 2017 | By David

Winners have been announced for the latest round of a 3D printing competition organized by NASA, which is giving participants the task of producing parts to gradually build up a 3D printed extra-terrestrial habitat. This most recent level was the second of three sub-competitions within Phase 2 of the 3D Printed Habitat Challenge, and the winning team was Moon X Construction from South Korea. Five other competitors were recognized for their entries, and a total of $201,023 in prize money has been awarded.

NASA’s Cetennial Challenges Program is running the 3D Printed Habitat Challenge in partnership with Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois. The Centennial Challenges program is part of the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, and is managed at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Its challenges and competitions are intended to drive innovation and enable development of new technological solutions, as well as bringing the public closer to the activities of the Association.

Bradley University has also partnered with sponsors Caterpillar, Bechte,l and Brick & Mortar Ventures. “These competitors are working to advance critical systems needed for human space exploration,” said Lex Akers, dean of the Caterpillar College of Engineering and Technology at Bradley University. “We are on the edge of developing new, innovative, and disruptive ideas that could change our future. This type of work will allow us to explore new ideas as we partner in creating solutions for our world and beyond.”

The goal of the challenge is to encourage research and development of the kinds of technologies that will be necessary to create a habitable environment from extra-terrestrial resources, such as those found on the Moon or Mars. NASA sees 3D printing technology as having the potential to construct human habitats in deep space autonomously, which will allow the exploration of these locations at some point in the future.

The use of materials and resources that are native to lunar, martian or other inhospitable environments is a big part of the challenge, as anything used to build the habitat has to fit inside the payload of a rocket and transporting fewer items from Earth will keep costs down. This requirement means that the technologies developed could also be applied on Earth in situations where resources are similarly limited.

Form Forge of Oregon State University won a $67,465 prize for its second place beam

Phase 1, which was the Design part of the competition, was completed back in 2015. Phase 2 is the Structural Member Competition, and the most recent level challenged competitors to 3D print a beam for bend testing. Scores were calculated based on the final material composition of the 3D printed beam and the maximum load that could be held before it failed.

Seoul-based Moon X Construction were not eligible for prize money, but $67,465 was awarded to Form Forge of Oregon State University for the second place entry. Foster and Partners with Branch Technology of Chattanooga, Tennessee came in third, earning $63,783, after getting $85,930 for getting first place in the first round of Phase 2. Fairbanks University of Alaska and CTL Group Mars of Illinois came in fourth and fifth respectively, with Singaporean team ROBOCON finishing in sixth place.

The winning beam from South Korean Moon X Construction, which was ineligible for the U.S.-only prize money

According to Rob Meuller, who is senior technologist for advanced projects development at the Swamp Works laboratory at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral and a subject matter expert for the competition, “Recyclable plastics were used in the top three scoring teams, indicating that a thermoplastic concrete material may be viable for 3D printing habitats on Mars. Thermoplastics, which are plastic polymers that become moldable when heated, could be obtained from discarded packaging material or even created on Mars using the carbon dioxide atmosphere and hydrogen from water found in the soil.'' 

Mueller also believes that ''Such concrete materials could also have applications on Earth while using discarded plastic trash,” suggesting the potential for affordable housing to be built from waste materials using 3D printing technology.

Teams will now be working toward Phase 2: Level 3, in which they will be required to 3D print a dome structure and provide samples for crush testing. Qualification for this level is based on teams’ performances in the previous levels. Phase 3 of the 3D Printed Habitat Challenge will be the On-Site Habitat Competition. This focuses on automated 3D printing systems, to autonomously construct a complete habitat, and has a total $1.5 million prize purse.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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