Martian ‘ice house’ wins Nasa contest to create habitat for first humans on the red planet
Will be built by rovers that extract water from the ice below the surface
Will apply ice to form a protective skin on the inside of an inflatable environment
Has its own ‘front yard’ that astronauts can use to grow food and to use as a relaxation space
It looks like a castle made of ice – and could become man’s home on the red planet.
Nasa today revealed the winner in its contest to create a 3D printed habitat for the first visitors to the red planet.
It awarded three teams a total of $40,000 in the first stage of the 3-D Printed Habitat Challenge Design Competition at the New York Maker Faire.
The design competition challenged participants to develop architectural concepts that take advantage of the unique capabilities 3-D printing offers to imagine what habitats on Mars might look like using this technology and in-situ resources.
The competition is part of NASA’s Centennial Challenges program and is managed by America Makes, a partnership of organizations focused on accelerating capabilities and adoption of additive manufacturing technology.
More than 165 submissions were received, and the 30 highest-scoring entries were judged, displayed at the Maker Faire event.
The first-place award of $25,000 went to Team Space Exploration Architecture and Clouds Architecture Office for their design, Mars Ice House.
Second place and $15,000 was awarded to Team Gamma, architects Foster and Partners, and third place was awarded to Team LavaHive.
‘The creativity and depth of the designs we’ve seen have impressed us,’ said Centennial Challenges Program Manager Monsi Roman.
‘These teams were not only imaginative and artistic with their entries, but they also really took into account the life-dependent functionality our future space explorers will need in an off-Earth habitat.’
Teams were judged on many factors, including architectural concept, design approach, habitability, innovation, functionality, Mars site selection and 3-D print constructability.
The designers behind the winning project, Ice House, say it was ‘born from the imperative to bring light and a connection to the outdoors into the vocabulary of Martian architecture – to create protected space in which the mind and body will not just survive, but thrive.’
The proposal uses a lander as the basis of the shelter, containing both private and communal interior spaces.
Once in place, an inflatable membrane is used to create an interstitial environment between the outside of the capsule and the Mars atmosphere.
Rovers would then extract water from the ice below the surface at Alba Mons and apply it to form a protective skin on the inside of the inflatable environment.
Not only does the layer of ice provide protection from radiation in the outside atmosphere, it is also translucent and allows light into the habitat.
By conditioning the environment within the inflatable section, it is proposed that the ice be kept frozen indefinitely and vegetation could be grown, which would help to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen.
‘With water as the core resource for future outposts on extraterrestrial bodies, NASA has taken a ‘follow the water’ approach to exploration; ice house extends that concept to construction.
‘The innovative structure draws on the abundance of water and persistently low temperatures in Mars’ northern latitudes to create a multi-layered pressurized radiation shell of ice that encloses a lander habitat and gardens within.
‘A unique 3D printing technique harnesses the physics of water and its phase transition to construct ice house.’
Consulting on the project are 12 leading space related experts comprised of scientists, astrophysicists, geologists, structural and 3D printing engineers.
In second place were the British architects behind Apple’s new ‘spaceship’ campus.
‘The design of the habitat – carried out in collaboration with industrial and academic partners – envisions a robust 3D-printed dwelling for up to four astronauts constructed using regolith – the loose soil and rocks found on the surface of Mars,’ it said.
The settlement on Mars will be constructed by an array of pre-programmed, semi-autonomous robots prior to the eventual arrival of the astronauts.
The habitat will be delivered in two stages prior to the arrival of the astronauts.
First, the semi-autonomous robots select the site and dig a 1.5 metre deep crater, followed by a second delivery of the inflatable modules which sit within the crater to form the core of the settlement.
Given the vast distance from the Earth and the ensuing communication delays, the deployment and construction is designed to take place with minimal human input, relying on rules and objectives rather than closely defined instructions.
This makes the system more adaptive to change and unexpected challenges – a strong possibility for a mission of this scale.
Three different kinds of robots are parachuted to the surface of Mars, each performing a specialised task within the large-scale Regolith Additive Construction (RAC) process.
The larger ‘Diggers’ create the crater by excavating the regolith, which the medium-sized ‘Transporters’ then move into position over the inflatable habitat modules layer by layer.
The loose Martian soil is then fused using microwaves around the modules using the same principles involved in 3D-printing by several small ‘Melters’.
The fused regolith creates a permanent shield that protects the settlement from excessive radiation and extreme outside temperatures.
The separation of tasks amongst the large number of robots, and the modularity of the habitat means a high level of redundancy is incorporated within the system – if one robot fails, or a single module is damaged, there are others that can fulfil its task, increasing the chances of a successful mission
‘The design of the compact 93 sqm habitat modules combines spatial efficiency with human physiology and psychology, with overlapping private and communal spaces, finished with ‘soft’ materials and enhanced virtual environments, which help reduce the adverse effects of monotony, while creating positive living environment for the astronauts,’ the firm says.
This continues the practice’s earlier design explorations for building in extreme environments and extra-terrestrial habitats such as the Lunar Habitation project in consortium with the European Space Agency.
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