So we're going to Mars, at some point. Well, once we get there we're going to need habitats, as in housing that's air tight and well insulted. And if it could be meteorite and radiation proof too, that would be great. Okay, so we'll just send a bunch of sacks of dry concrete and a few hundred thousand gallons of water up into orbit to put on a ship to go to - wait a minute. That stuff's all really, really heavy, and at the current rate of $10,000 a pound to send things into orbit, that, well, let's see, carry the two, well, that could pretty much bankrupt NASA right there. So, what to do? Astronauts gotta have houses, right? Well, you know that cool 3D printing technology that people have been doing all sorts of absurd stuff with, like, you know, printing plastic guns, and models of the Millennium Falcon? Well, it turns out 3D might have a far more useful job it could do. NASA, along with an organization called the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, known as America Makes are holding a competition to see if someone can come up with a 3D printed habitat to be used for space exploration on the surface of, say Mars, or maybe on the moon or a moon of Saturn or Jupiter. The prize for the winner of the contest is 2.25 million dollars.
So what would a 3D printer use to make this habitat, well no one's interested in hefting giant printer cartridges filled with tons of cement inside them into orbit and then landing them on Mars, so people are looking toward materials that might already be on Mars, like say, martian sand, or maybe parts of spaceships that, once used to get folks down to the surface were just going to be junk littering the martian surface. Contestants are looking at ways to process these materials, feed them into an industrial 3D printer and have it create a martian building.
There will be two phases to the competition. The first phase will focus just on contestants' ability to use the unique possibilities of 3D printing to create unique pieces of architecture. The top 30 submissions will compete for a prize of $50,000.
The second phase of the competition will focus more specifically on space and will have two levels. Level 1 will focus on participants' abilities to develop the fabrication techniques necessary for habitat construction on other planetary bodies, and how to use materials that are already there (wherever there might happen to be). Level 2 will focus on the actual 3D printed habitats themselves. Each of these levels will award 1.1 million dollars to the winner.