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NASA Opens Phase 3 of 3D Printed Habitat Challenge


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Because the future of space exploration depends on innovative shelters for explorers, NASA’s 3-D Printed Habitat Challenge is looking for inventors to create these structures on-site in space. NASA and its challenge partner Bradley University have recently announced the opening of Phase 3 of the competition. 

Along with the need for shelters is the idea that future explorers won’t be able to transport all materials from Earth to the moon, Mars, and beyond. 

The 3-D Printed Habitat Challenge, a Centennial Challenges competition, aims to foster the development of new technologies necessary to manufacture a habitat using indigenous materials with, or without, recyclable materials. Phase 3: On-Site Habitat Competition is now open. It offers a $2 million total prize purse to competitors to create the sub-scale habitats. Teams can register until February 15, 2018. 

“We’re working on the automation of the 3-D printing process and being able to do it on another planet,” said Tony Kim, NASAA project manager, during the November 7 announcement at the fall meeting of the BIM Forum. The meetings aim to help the construction industry use Building Information Modeling (BIM) technology and techniques better.

“We want to get off the planet with BIM,” Peter Carrato, a fellow with Bechtel Corporation, a competition partner, and member of NASA's Centennial Challenge Committee said at the announcement. “It’s time to take it to Mars.” 

“We want to get off the planet with BIM,” Peter Carrato, a fellow with Bechtel Corporation, a competition partner, and member of NASA's Centennial Challenge Committee. 

Carrato, also a head judge for the competition, discussed how the new NASA challenge will require firms to follow the Levels of Development that had been  established by the members of the BIM Forum, a group first created by the Associated General Contractors of America.

The challenge welcomes entrepreneurs, investors, industry professionals, educators, and students in architecture, engineering, manufacturing, construction, materials science, or other fields. Each team may have one team leader, who must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident or be an entity incorporated in and which maintains a primary place of business in the United States. 

Phase 3 is a structural challenge featuring several different levels for both BIM and construction, which will be assessed based on performance criteria. For example, structures must offer 1,000 square feet of livable space and be functional for four astronauts for one year. 

“This technology that’s developed is useful for NASA, but it’s going to be useful for people on Earth,” Kim said. “NASA’s technology has been used tremendously in many fields: understanding weather through satellites, medical technology microwaves, cordless screwdrivers. This technology has the potential to disrupt a trillion-dollar construction business.” 

According to a news release, experts envision that autonomous machines will one day be deployed to space to construct shelters for human habitation. 

According to a news release, experts envision that autonomous machines will one day be deployed to space to construct shelters for human habitation. The same capabilities could be used on Earth to produce affordable housing wherever it is needed or where access to conventional building materials and skills are limited.

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

Phase 1: Design Competition, completed in 2015, asked participants to develop state-of-the-art architectural concepts. Team Space Exploration Architecture and Clouds Architecture Office of New York, New York, won a first-place award of $25,000 for the design, Mars Ice House.

Phase 2: Structural Member Competition, completed in August 2017, focused on manufacturing structural components. Foster + Partners | Branch Technology from Chattanooga, Tennessee, won first place and $250,000 for its 3-D printed dome structure. 

Gary Roberts, Bradley University president, said the school “prides itself on experiential learning and student engagement” that goes beyond the textbook or classroom. 

“This is a forward-thinking concept coming to life, and they have a chance to see it firsthand,” he said. “They will meet the people making it happen and learn about the ideas that are fueling innovation. This could change the way they imagine the future and push their creative limits."

Along with NASA, Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, has partnered with sponsors Caterpillar, Inc., Bechtel, and Brick & Mortar Ventures to run the competition. The challenge is part of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate and is managed at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. 

If you liked this article, here are a few webinars you may enjoy: 

The Power of I in BIM

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