NASA announced the discovery of flowing water on Mars earlier this year and soon after, together with the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, started a $2.25 million project competition to design and build a 3D printed housing to be used in deep space exploration missions, starting with the expedition to Mars.
The competition was divided into two parts. The first phase, which ended on the 27th of September, was a design challenge requiring the development of cutting edge architectural concepts that utilized the capabilities of modern 3D printers.
The second phase had two levels of competition. The first required the participants to explore fabrication technologies needed to manufacture the actual components of the future structure from indigenous materials. The second level dealt with the challenge of fabricating a full-scale habitat for up to four astronauts using those indigenous materials.
The first prize went to the design called Ice House co-created by New York studios SEArch and Clouds AO. They received a prize of $25,000 for their idea, which was one of the few that was not based on using the loose soil and rocks (regolith) that form the surface of the Red Planet. Instead they went for an iglooesque structure that has “a thin vertical ice shell capable of protecting the interior habitat from radiation while celebrating life above ground”.
The concept makes use of Mars’ water supply and consists of two ice pods. The larger one serves as the outer layer of the habitat and forms a buffer zone around the smaller one, providing insulation from the harsh climate of the planet.
The ice also protects against ultraviolet solar and galactic gamma radiation, while still allowing light through. “Recognising that water is the building block to life, the team used a ‘follow the water’ approach to conceptualise, site and construct their design” shared Clouds AO and SEArch.
“Ice House was born from the imperative to bring light and a connection to the outdoors into the vocabulary of Martian architecture.” The designers behind the winning project were Christina Ciardullo, Kelsey Lents, Jeffrey Montes, Michael Morris and Melodie Yashar from studio SEArch, and Ostap Rudakeyvich, Masayuki Sono and Yuko Sono of Clouds AO. Together with 14 specialist consultants from fields like astrophysics, geology and 3D printing engineering they came ahead of competitors like London based Foster + Partners, the European Space Agency and French 3D-printing company Fabulous.
In addition, we can also look a bit to what we learned while The Martian was airing this summer, which caused a wide-spread debate on potential sustainability of Martian habitats. As previously stated, one of the main functions of the outer pod would be to protect inhabitants from hazardous interstellar radiation. Spending prolonged amount of time in outer space runs an increased risk of developing radiation-related sicknesses.
Exactly because of this, every additional step that could be taken in order to prevent potential damage would be worth gold. Hence, one of the key advice the experts have provided was to build all essential parts of the habitat below ground in order to use natural protection as much as possible.
Having everything in mind, we are yet to see the final version of the Mars habitat that would incorporate all the safety features needed for a prolonged stay in the harsh environment of the red planet.
This article was brought to you in collaboration with Velislav Peychev from Market Inspector.