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NASA opens US$2mn third phase of 3D-printed habitat competition

NASA’s 3D-printed habitat competition is now in its third phase with the first two phases already completed in 2015 and 2017 respectively.

Phase 3, the On-Site Habitat Competition, has a US$2mn prize purse.

At Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, NASA announced the opening of the third phase of the Centennial Challenge to develop a habitat on Mars.

Bradley University has partnered with sponsors Caterpillar, Bechtel and Brick & Mortar Ventures to run the competition.

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Bradley University President Gary Roberts said the school is honoured to be the challenge partner once again.

"Bradley prides itself on experiential learning and student engagement,” Roberts said.

“This challenge isn’t something our students can learn about in a textbook or in a classroom. This is a forward-thinking concept coming to life, and they have a chance to see it first-hand.

“They will meet the people making it happen and learn about the ideas that are fuelling innovation. This could change the way they imagine the future and push their creative limits."

The current competition, Phase 3 (On-Site Habitat), will focus on the technology for autonomous 3D-printing and construction of a complete 1:3 sub-scale habitat.

The idea is that in the future, autonomous robots on Mars, the moon or beyond will be able to build these shelters for people to live in.

It is envisioned that local terrestrial indigenous materials (gravel, clay, sand, etc.) could be combined with readily available recyclable materials and used to construct durable shelters for human habitation.

NASA also said the technology will benefit Earth residents to build affordable housing or temporary housing when conventional construction options are unavailable.

“The ideas and technologies this competition has already produced are encouraging, and we are excited to see what this next phase will bring,” said Monsi Roman, Program Manager of NASA’s Centennial Challenges.

“The solutions we seek from our competitions are revolutionary, which by nature makes them extremely difficult. But this only fuels our teams to work harder to innovate and solve.”

NASA awarded US$25,000 to the Mars Ice House in Phase 1 of its challenge, which focused on design.

In Phase 2, which focused on developing materials that can be used for 3D-printing and for structural components in space, NASA awarded US$100,000 to two winners.

Foster + Partners | Branch Technology won US$85,930 and the team from University of Alaska at Fairbanks won US$14,070.

NASA examined how capable the 3-D printed samples were of holding compacted volumes of materials under compression during lab tests.

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