- NASA announced on Tuesday the opening of the third phase of the Centennial Challenge, a 3-D printed habitat competition that encourages participants to create technology that could develop shelters on Mars, reports Construction Equipment.
- In this phase, challengers will use indigenous materials, 3-D printing and/or recycled materials to create the habitat, according to News 6 in Orlando. The prize purse totals $2 million.
- NASA hopes one day autonomous robots will be able to build these habitable structures on Mars, and also says it could help build affordable or temporary housing on Earth.
NASA awarded $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 3-D printing and for structural components in space, NASA awarded $100,000 to two winners. Foster + Partners | Branch Technology won $85,930 and the team from University of Alaska at Fairbanks won $14,070. NASA examined how capable the 3-D printed samples were of holding compacted volumes of materials under compression during lab tests.
This competition, held since 2015, isn't the first time NASA has explored the possibility of structures on the Red Planet. In 2014, NASA astronauts, in partnership with Made In Space and NanoRacks, installed a 3-D printer at its space station to test-print satellite components.
In 2016, Northwestern University scientists developed "Martian concrete," comprising a 50-50 blend of Martian soil and molten sulphur. The recyclable material requires no water, a major asset on a planet where all of the water is frozen, and it resists acid, salt and low temperatures. Scientists said the concrete can be used to build structures on Mars.
Early this year, researchers at NASA's Langley Research Center unveiled donut-shaped inflatable homes encased in an outer shell of ice that would protect Mars astronauts from the planet's sometimes inhospitable conditions. The ice shell would provide thermal insulation and a radiation shield. In addition, the water that inflates the domes could perhaps be converted to rocket fuel for the Mars Ascent Vehicle. As with the structures in NASA's competition, robots would build these domes so they'd be ready for astronauts upon arrival on Mars.
Mars exploration possibilities aren't limited to just structures. Elon Musk also intends to send people to Mars through his SpaceX company. In late September, he proposed a new reusable rocket he calls the Interplanetary Transport System. Details remain hazy about how he will finance such an endeavor.