When David Bowie asked “is there life on Mars?” in 1971 you can bet he wasn’t thinking of humans. As it happens, we could very well be bringing life to Mars in the near future thanks to efforts being undertaken by NASA and 3D printing companies. One of those companies, NY-based AI SpaceFactory, is hoping it will be the one to provide homes for when humans do eventually step foot onto the Red Planet.
AI SpaceFactory, an architecture and technology firm, recently revealed it successfully demonstrated the autonomous construction process for its MARSHA habitat, a feat which secured it a top finish in the construction phase of NASA’s 3D Printed Habitat Challenge. The achievement came with a prize of $88,353.
AI SpaceFactory’s MARSHA habitat project is one of five top finalists in NASA’s 3D Printing Habitat Challenge, which invited teams to design and build a 3D printable habitat that could house a crew of four astronauts on a mission to Mars.
In the recent construction phase of the challenge, AI SpaceFactory leveraged cutting edge robotics and its proprietary “Martian polymer” to demonstrate how the MARSHA habitat could be built. The company reportedly submitted a number of 3D printed samples which were tested for strength, impact resistance and durability in extreme conditions and temperatures.
AI SpaceFactory stood out from its competitors—who all used concrete as a construction material—by using a special material which could be made from matter “found or grown on Mars.” The material, called “Martian polymer” was validated by a third-party lab and demonstrates superior qualities to concrete in terms of tensile strength, compressive strength, durability, ductility, thermal resistance and cosmic radiation absorption. Importantly, the material can also be made without water.
In the construction phase, AI SpaceFactory says it was able to move from basic tests to production in just five weeks. In the end, the company produced a large-area slab using its autonomous robotic technology—which was validated by NASA in November 2018. More recently, the company 3D printed a large cylinder for holding 1,200 gallons of water in just 24 hours at the Autodesk Innovation Center Boston using equipment provided by its consortium partner, Virginia Tech. The structure even integrated wall penetrations that were robotically placed and sealed.
Having succeeded in the construction stage, AI SpaceFactory is now vying for the top prize of $500,000, which will be awarded to the top team in the final phase of the habitat challenge. This phase will see the contestants 3D print a 1:3 scale prototype of their respective habitats in front of a live audience at the Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois from April 29 to May 4.