Mars, here we come. The AI SpaceFactory/Thornton Tomasetti team took home the top prize in NASA and Bradley University’s 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge. The multi-phase competition, which wrapped up this past weekend, required teams to develop a prototype for an autonomous 3-D printed shelter for deep-space exploration, built from recycled and indigenous materials that could be found in places like the Moon and Mars.
“This was a great exercise in creative design,” Vice Chairman Dennis Poon, who headed up the Thornton Tomasetti team, said. “It forced us to look for innovative ways to build in different environments using unique materials and methods that require little human involvement.” In addition to Dennis, the Thornton Tomasetti team included Associate Principal Billy Tse, Senior Associate Saravanan Panchacharam, and Engineer Hao Chen.
The MARSHA team, from left, David Malott, Christopher Botham, Senior Associate Saravanan Panchacharam, Vice Chairman Dennis Poon, Jeffrey Montes, David Riedel.
The final stage of the contest, which involved building 1/3-scale versions of the designs, took place over 30 hours from May 1-4 at Caterpillar’s Edwards Demonstration and Learning Center in Edwards, Illinois. The structures were constructed in 10-hour segments and judged on durability, materials, leakage prevention and strength. The AI SpaceFactory/Thornton Tomasetti team was awarded $500,000 for their winning concept. Coming in second place was the Pennsylvania State University team, which took home $200,000.
The Mars habitat, MARSHA, is constructed from strong, sustainable materials that will allow for autonomous replication in extraterrestrial environments. Image courtesy AI SpaceFactory.
The prototype for the extraterrestrial habitat, named MARSHA, is a vertical cylinder made from a mix of basalt fiber and renewable bioplastic derived from plants that could be grown on other planets in the future. The full-scale design calls for a four-story structure with lab and living space. Thornton Tomasetti provided structural engineering and analysis for the project, which was designed by New York City-based architectural firm AI SpaceFactory.
The MARSHA habitat prototype was 3-D printed over four, ten-hour periods. Image courtesy AI SpaceFactory.
The 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge was conducted in three phases—design, structural elements and on-site construction—over four years and sought to foster the development of new technologies for creating sustainable housing in space and on Earth. Throughout the entire competition, more than 60 teams participated and a total of $3.15 million in prize money was awarded. The competition was part of NASA’s Centennial Challenge, which invites businesses, academia and individuals to help develop creative solutions to technical problems that are of interest to the space agency and the U.S.
MARSHA was subjected to a battery of tests, including a crush test, which it passed with flying colors. Image courtesy AI SpaceFactory.
“The final milestone of this competition is a culmination of extremely hard work by bright, inventive minds who are helping us advance the technologies we need for a sustainable human presence on the Moon, and then on Mars,” Monsi Roman, program manager for NASA’s Centennial Challenges Program said in a statement.
While the first human settlement on Mars is still some years away, MARSHA’s success is an illustration of what’s possible when engineering design and technology come together, and may one day lead to Thornton Tomasetti’s first project on the Red Planet.
Click here to watch footage of the four-day event.
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