NASA’s 3D Printing Human Habitats on Mars

One of the biggest challenges for potential habitants on Mars is shielding from intense solar radiation and maintaining an artificial environment. In order to protect themselves from the severe and toxic Martian atmosphere, human beings need a pressurized environment on Mars at all times. However, one of the biggest challenges is to reach Mars itself, which includes starting the journey from Earth and sustaining it till the surface of Mars. One convenient factor for us is the Mars air, which supports aerobraking, which means that there is less requirement to moderate a special landing mechanism.

Scientists have been working and investigating the surface, climate, and atmosphere of Mars for years. Their main goal is to find traces of life or look for components that might guarantee that life on Mars is possible. For this purpose, several robotic spacecraft have been built that have provided us with wonderful views, however, the actual journey to Mars has not been tried by any human yet. NASA is one of the biggest organization that has been researching about Mars. Since 1960, the US and several other countries have successfully sent spacecrafts to the planet in order to get more insight and each mission has provided with more significant information regarding our neighbor planet. Over the years we have learned that out of all the planets in our solar system, Mars is the most similar to Earth and hence is a good place to look for life. However, it is still different from our planet in many aspects.

The biggest challenge for us is to maintain a climate a Mars in which our species can thrive. Most importantly, maintain the right temperature in the right places. The heat that rises in the air is generated by means of electronics and light, even though there are severe fluctuations in temperature outside. In 2015, NASA introduced a 3 stage Mars habitat design challenge. The first stage of the challenge was designing a habitat that could thrive on Mars, the next stage included using discarded spacecraft components for construction technology and the last stage required using a 3D printing technology for building and presenting an actual habitat for Mars.

According to scientists, in order to send humans in deep space, we need to pack lightly. Which means that in order to establish a way of life there, we need to make use of the resources that are already available on the planet and the aim of the 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge is to do that exactly. The participants were required to propose ideas that make use of resources and recyclable material that can be found on Mars and the moon. The teams are supposed to think of ideas that can be executed to support human missions. On the other hand, the proposed ideas can also translate into low-cost housing here on Earth as well.

Participants included people from elementary schools all the way up-to professional design firms and several innovative concepts regarding a sustainable habitat on Mars were admitted to NASA from all over the world. The number of entries exceeded 130 and on 27th September, the top 30 best designs were judged at the New York Maker Faire.

Competing in this challenge was not as simple and easy as it might sound. This is because most of the resources and technology for making 3D printers and habitats similar to this is unchartered territory. Most of the teams gave up because it was quite difficult for them to obtain the resources that were needed for this.

A total of $50000 was rewarded to the teams that proposed the best designs and ideas for the 2nd stage. Team Space Exploration Architecture and Clouds Architecture Office won the first place with and received an award of $25000. The 2nd place was won by Team Gamma and was awarded $15000. The 3rd prize was $10000, which was won by Team LavaHive. Other than the 3 top teams there were some other awards and honorary mentions for the best class categories.

Winners and honorary mentions for the 2nd stage:

The groups were required to propose reasonable 3D models of their ideas for habitats, and not simply in Blender or something. They utilized Building Information Modeling programming that would require these structures designed down to a specific dimension of detail — so you can’t simply have 2D walls constructed of ‘material TBD’, and you need to consider thickness from pressure sealing, air sifting components, heating and so forth.

The habitats needed to be made on at least 1000 square feet of area, enough for four individuals to live for a year, provided there is also space for the machinery and gear required to live on Mars. The entries were judged on structure, design, 3D-printing viability and layout.

Below mentioned are the winners and the honorary mentions for the 2nd stage of the competition.

The Ice House

Made by a group of 8 designers with help from space-related specialists including researchers, astrophysicists, geologists, and 3D printing architects, the best plan of the ICE HOUSE broadens NASA’s ‘follow the water’ way to deal with development. Given the expected presence of water in specific regions on Mars, their idea makes use of the properties of water as an indigenous material and relentlessly low temperatures in the northern latitudes of Mars in order to make a multi-layered pressurized radiation shell of ice which creates a safe space for habitats and gardens inside.

The Inflatable

The winners of the 2nd place team Gamma’s design make use of a semi-self-ruling multi-robot regolith additive manufacturing system to establish a defensive shield around a secluded inflatable habitat. Their proposed idea fundamentally investigates the framework and plan excess through distributed functionality: from the landing and searching of the three inflatable modules to locate a reasonable area; with the adaptable and compatible internal habitat structure; through to the multi-robot microwave regolith melting.

Lava Casting

Lava casting is a modular Martian habitat design which was made by group Lava Hive. The team scored the 3rd place in the competition reused components of a spacecraft as a key component of the concept of their proposed idea. Their proposed idea consisted of entry and landing which is supposed to deliver the construction rovers is the primary habitat roof, making use of an inflatable module underneath as the essential living space.

The Hybrid Approach

The hybrid approach was proposed by of a multidisciplinary group of specialists in design, advanced creation, calculation, material science, mechanical, robotic and aeronautic design. This design won as runner ups in the competition. Their idea suggested a hybrid approach that coordinates various mechanically controlled creation methods using polymers and fibers. The habitat consists of a 3D printed composite grid which is extruded by robotic arms, which form the structure, and an internal layer of enclosures that are robotically formed by composite shells.

Ancient Design

The ‘best use of space’ award was won by the 3D-printed habitat challenge, the Seed Habitat, by the CTLGroupMars. Their proposed idea made use of ancient Roman concrete designs that excluded reinforcing steel. The feedstock for Martian cement is gypsum sand accessible on the surface of Mars. The gypsum is converted to water and plaster by thermal dehydration, two of the three important ingredients for cement. The proportion of these materials is tuned by means of a concrete 3D printer, along with the sand and stone on Mars to make mixed designs.

The Donut Home

The team A.R.C.H’s submission won the “Best Technical Proposal” award for the competition, their proposal makes use of the plan and development procedure of basalt fiber mud matrix structures for in-situ habitat construction on the planet. Rocks and soil are used to create the basalt fiber reinforced clay on the majority of terrestrial bodies including the moon, the Earth and Mars. The strategy updates the demonstrated innovation of Cobb development: making use of straw instead of basalt fibers and using additive manufacturing to create complete and effective habitable structures.

Final stage of the NASA’s 3D printed habitat challenge

It’s been three years since NASA’s 3D printed habitat challenge started and this year, after endless submissions and three stages, the competition is almost coming to an end. The aim of the competition was to design a habitat made of local materials that could be established on Mars, the moon and other planets. After years of hard work and determination from the contestants, this challenge is finally winding up. NASA has announced a reward of $100,000 which is supposed to be split between the first three winners of the challenge.

A total of 11 teams participated in the challenge and completed their entries with complete virtual construction stage. The name of the first team that won the competition is SEarch+ and Apis Cor, that received a reward of $33,954.11, the 2nd place was secured by the Rogers, Arkansas–based Team Zopherus who were rewarded with $33,422.01 and the team to receive the 3rd position was New Haven, Connecticut’s Mars Incubator winning a reward of $32,623.88.

The teams were required to carefully understand their plans in the Martian condition utilizing BIM in the complete virtual construction challenge, working off of an initial stage in the challenge that included renderings. In the complete virtual construction challenge, the teams were asked to present their ideas related to the layout of the habitat, spatial efficiency, scalability, and constructability as well. The teams were also asked to present videos based on their ideas and small 3D printed models.

SEarch+ and Apis Cor’s idea consisted of layered, rook-like towers which were printed from Martian regolith. The hyperboloid shape of the habitat that looked like a squeezed cylinder emerged normally from the need to contain the internal weight of the structure; in a low-pressure condition, a gas pushing outward is the strongest force exerted on a pressurized structure. The living territories and research facilities are connected to one another, however, they were compartmentalized so it was easier to deal with any emergency by the means of a central service core. All hexagonal windows were designed so they could be assembled in-situ and would contain excess pressure panes and seals.

Zopherus proposed an idea that was more basic and lower to the ground as compared to the others. It comprised of a number of latticed domes. A lander would be used to assemble the habitats, which would dispatch a number of autonomous robots to gather the raw materials. The materials would then be mixed and printed to form a hexagonal structure starting from the ground upwards, using Martian dirt, calcium oxide, and ice to make concrete. The habitat and bordering modules would be designed in such a way that they are able to absorb the sunlight yet would also incorporate sliding boards to cover the windows for when the solar rays would be excessively extreme. It is amazing how a 3D printer works, countless and creative ways you can make use of it, and how powerful it will even become in the near future. If you are looking for 3D printer yourself and do not want to break the bank. Please take a look at the best 3D printers under 300.


According to Monsi Roman, program supervisor for NASA’s Centennial Challenges. the overall achievement of this challenge is a collection of very diligent work by intelligent, imaginative minds who are helping humans advance in the technological requirements for a sustainable human presence on the Moon, and after that on Mars. He said that they commend their vision, commitment, and advancement in creating ideas that won’t just help NASA’s profound space objectives but might also provide possible housing solutions on our own planet as well. The challenge started in 2015 and was completed after several stages, pulled in 60 groups that altogether won more than $2 million in prizes from NASA. The major partner of NASA’s in the challenge was Bradley University in Illinois.

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