With Mars nearer to us than it’s been in over a decade, it’s no wonder that space exploration and Mars missions have felt more palpable than ever. But it’s not only because the red planet could be seen by the naked eye this past week, it’s also because space organization NASA has been making some important inroads.
Recently, for instance, NASA selected the top five teams for its 3D Printed Habitat Challenge, a competition which has invited innovative groups and companies to propose solutions for building livable structures on Mars. (The ongoing initiative has seen a number of amazing and boundary pushing proposals by the likes of Branch Technology, AI Spacefactory and more.)
In another recent undertaking, the space organization’s Swamp Works lab teamed up with Autodesk’ Advanced Consulting team to design and 3D print a sample structure using a robotic extrusion process and a material made from regolith and recycled plastic. The structure in question is known as a Jersey barrier, a modular barricade typically used to separate traffic lanes from construction areas.
The traffic barriers, normally made from concrete or plastic, must be durable, impact resistant and incredibly strong, making them an interesting sample object for testing materials and processes destined for 3D printed habitats on Mars.
In creating the 3D printed barrier, Autodesk’s Advanced Consulting team designed the structure using Fusion 360 and PowerMill. The design, which followed NASA specifications, also had to meet structural requirements and the requirements of the robotic extrusion process. Crucially, the Autodesk team wanted to ensure that the Jersey barrier could be as lightweight as possible without sacrificing strength.
Autodesk was also behind the software used to control the industrial robotic 3D printer, which has the ability to build up structures using the regolith mixture without the need for supports or scaffolding. Interestingly, though the project is working to ultimately put 3D printed habitats on Mars, the additive manufacturing process could also have applications here on Earth.
“Additive manufacturing technology has the potential to revolutionize the way we do construction here on Earth, too,” explained Massimiliano Moruzzi of Autodesk’s computational science research group. “If we can repurpose plastic pollution and use readily available natural resources to robotically print houses on Mars, we can use the same approach to sustainably build streets, sidewalks, and even playgrounds here at home.”
Interested in learning more about how 3D printing could help human live on Mars sooner? Check out our list of the top companies working to develop 3D printing construction processes for space.