Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, has partnered with NASA to host a competition to create sustainable housing, using 3D printing technology, that can stand on Earth, Mars, the moon, and more.
As part of the NASA Centennial Challenge, this recent competition marks the third phase of the 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge. Competing teams are required to construct small-scale habitats by using indigenous materials for this phase. The winner will take home a grand prize of $2 million.
The first and second phases laid the foundation for this competition. In phase one, which was completed in 2015, teams were required to develop architectural concepts. In phase two, which took place in August, teams began building structural components necessary to the construction of the habitats.
“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 statement.
Altogether, the competition is intended to pull together “America’s best and brightest” to use local indigenous materials and 3D printing technology to create sustainable housing durable enough to last on Mars.
The overarching idea is that in the future there will be human habitation on Mars, the moon, and more. Before people reach planets with the intent of living, there must be an already established method of building sustainable housing.
There is no way to bring all of the materials necessary to build housing on Mars from Earth, so builders must use resources that are already available on Mars.
“In the case of this competition, it’s about using the Martian soil combined with waste packaging material (plastic polymers) to be able to build infrastructure,” said Anne McMullan, retired senior engineer and Campus Strategist for Production Development at Caterpillar Inc., who is a member of the 3D-Printed Habitat core team, and pulled together information from the team to form her responses to The University Network (TUN).
On Earth, the same methods could be used to build affordable, sustainable housing.
“The construction industry is a multi trillion dollar business annually here on Earth,” said McMullen. “One of the key challenges facing humanity is the exploding need for housing/habitat globally. In order to meet that need, new technologies that support higher level of automation and productivity are needed. This technology area is a disruptive and transformational approach to meeting that need.”
Additionally, the ability to use plastic polymers, such as water bottles and containers that pollute many areas of the world, as a structural material would provide a huge sustainability impact on the environment, said McMullen.
Bradley University is proud to be one of the partners of the competition.
Since the university is hosting the competition, its students are foreclosed from competing, but the community — both students and faculty — still has a lot to gain from the experience.
“Bradley prides itself on experiential learning and student engagement,” Bradley University President Gary Roberts said in a statement. “This challenge isn’t something our students can learn about in a textbook or in a classroom. This is a forward-thinking concept coming to life, and they have a chance to see it firsthand. 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.”
The additional sponsors that will help run the NASA 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge are Caterpillar Inc., Bechtel and Brick & Mortar Ventures.