NASA recently announced the winners of its 3-D printed habitat competition. The competition, which was first announced in May, challenged designers to design and build a 3-D printed habitat intended for Mars exploration. Many of the top 30 selected designs, including the competition runner-up, featured composites.
The design with most extensive use of composites was fourth-place finisher Guvenc Ozel and his team, Hybrid Composites. The team wrote on its blog that its approach to the competition was to have the design incorporate high-performance composite materials and robotic fabrication techniques that defy the status quo of traditional 3-D printing.
“Rather than using extrusion of powder based cement based materials, our team proposes a hybrid approach that integrates multiple robotically controlled fabrication techniques that employ the use of high performance composite fibers and fast curing polymers that react to heat or UV light,” Hybrid Composites explained in an online proposal for the competition.
Hybrid Composites’ proposal added that its design’s primary structure could be 3-D printed by extruding composite fibers, which could then be woven through robotically-controlled shaping systems. The primary materials for the design, they claim, can be made at sites with a history of volcanic activity in extraterrestrial environments. They add that their materials can also be customized to meet special technological requirements, such as advanced fiber optics.
“Through our proposed material and fabrication techniques, the habitat will be a combination of a 3-D printed composite lattice that is extruded through robotic arms, serving as structure, and an inner layers of robotically formed composite shells as high performance enclosures,” Hybrid Composites wrote.
Other teams whose designs included composites were the Mars Terrain Intelligence Collaborative, who used a monolithic composite shell as the basis for its design, and Red House, whose design adapted traditional basalt composite rod manufacturing to 3-D print its habitat’s structural frame.