NASA opens final phase of Mars habitat design challenge

Teams can use 3D printing, Mars-native materials or recyclables

By Emilee Speck - Digital journalist

NASA artist rendering of a possible Martian habitat.

DALLAS - NASA began accepting entries Tuesday for the third phase of a Martian habitat design challenge.

The competition is part of NASA's Centennial Challenges program to inspire technology innovation that will have value not only to space exploration, but also here on Earth.

The idea is that one day autonomous robots on Mars, the moon or beyond will be able to build these shelters for people to live in. NASA also says the technology will benefit Earth residents to build affordable housing or temporary housing when conventional construction options are unavailable.

NASA project manager Tony Kim kicked off team registration at a construction technology conference Tuesday in Texas.

Winning designs will be awarded $2 million to continue developing and manufacture the habitat using 3D printing technology, materials native to Mars or recycled materials.

A head-to-head competition with the finalists will happen at the Caterpillar Edwards Demonstration and Learning Center in Illinois for one week in April and May.

Registration opens Tuesday, and NASA will accept entries until Feb.15. Late entries will be accepted with a fee, according to the Federal Register.

There are three phases to NASA’s habitat challenge.

Phase one, completed in 2015, welcomed teams to develop architectural concepts using 3D technology. Qualifying teams were awarded $40,000 to $50,000. Phase two, completed in August, focused on using materials native to Mars or recyclables. Winning designs were awarded $701,000 to $1.1 million.

Kim said materials designed for the challenge during phase one made of recyclable materials and natural resources are stronger than concrete.

Now, NASA is accepting designs for the final phase of the challenge for scaled habitat designs combining 3D, recycled materials and Martian-sourced materials.

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

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