Space

NASA’s Mars colony won’t just look cool – it will be 3D-printed

By Kitty Knowles 22 February 2017
Summary

Meet the man working with NASA to 3D-print your future home.

Future generations will live on Mars.

Elon Musk thinks he can put you on the red planet by 2025, and there are even university courses on our future colonies.

But have you given a thought as to what your future space home will look like?

One man is already working with NASA to develop it –  and it’s going to be 3D-printed.

Man on Mars

Behrokh Khoshnevis is a professor of engineering at the University of Southern California: he’s been working with NASA to help build a colony on Mars since 2011.

Given that the desert planet has little oxygen, and offers up -87°C winters, any inhabitants will have to live in uniquely designed homes.

And for Khoshnevis, the answer to our interplanetary habitats lies in 3D-printing.

Tackling challenges

First, Khoshnevis created what’s called Contour Crafting (a technique that made it possible to print a 2,500-square-foot building in less than a day), and then ‘Selective Separation Sintering’ (a process that works in zero-gravity).

“My 3D printing processes don’t depend on gravity. The printers extrude by force, with pressure – like a glue gun,” he told CNN.

Khoshnevis also worked out how to turn the sandy materials found on Mars’ surface into solid rock that could be built with:

“Taking 1 kilogram of material from Earth to the moon would cost hundreds of thousands dollars. It was clear to me that these ideas were not economically viable,” he explained.

We’ll have robot architects

Once Khoshnevis’ 3D-printer is rocketed to space, it will have to work independently, or be controlled remotely from earth.

“In space, the environments are so hostile to humans that robotics will have to play a major role in preparing those places for the future of humanity,” says Khoshnevis, who predicts robots will have to construct power grids, construction plants, landing pads and roads, all before we even set foot.

In time, our capabilities on Mars will even surpass what we can do on our own planet, he adds.

“Building in space is going to become commonplace in less than 50 years,” says Khoshnevis. “There’s an abundance of energy and materials [and] in a short time, our capability to manufacture in space will be many times what we can do on Earth.”

What will your Mars home look like?

While Khoshnevis has yet to confirm what his 3D-printed buildings will look like, NASA has already explored the field.

One competition saw 165 design submissions, with the team behind a striking 3D-printed ice house design (pictured top) taking home $25,000.

Another team, Team Gamma, came in second place for their starfish-like design (pictured above).

These plans might look like something of sci-fi fiction, but they’re not just cool ideas. They’re concepts paving the way for a future habitat that’s entirely possible, says Khoshnevis.

“One hundred years ago … no one imagined that 300 people would be sitting in a metallic airplane going from one side of the world to the other in a few hours,” he proclaimed.

“I have full confidence that we will conquer Mars and this solar system, and even beyond.”