Branch Technology and architectural firm Foster + Partners won first place in the second phase of a NASA competition to build a 3-D printed habitat for deep space exploration. The multi-phase, $2.5 million 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge is designed to advance construction technology needed to create sustainable housing solutions for Earth and beyond. In 2015, the first phase of the competition pitted many composite-intensive designs against each other.
Branch Technology specializes in a special 3-D printing process called “Cellular Fabrication” (C-Fab), which uses a 3-D printer to solidify a mixture of acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) and carbon fiber in an open space. This is different from typical 3-D printers, where thermoplastics are heated, cooled, and then layered to create a structure.
Branch’s printer’s head is attached to a 12.5-foot robotic arm, which moves on a 33-foot rail. Using this system, Branch Technology can print a 3-D matrix 25-feet wide and 58-feet long. The reinforced matrix creates an internal support structure for layers of foam insulation, concrete and other conventional construction materials.
The team’s 3-D printed dome held 3,726 pounds of ultimate load – more than any other designs in the competition. Branch Technology thanked Techmer PM, which has supplied materials support to the team throughout the competition, for playing a continued role in their success.
“Materials science was a big part of this competition, and we were glad to work with a materials design company like Techmer PM,” said Platt Boyd, CEO of Branch Technology. “The custom materials Techmer PM designed enabled Branch to maximize product performance and processing efficiency, allowing for a robust product to be made in realistic times.”
Phase 3 of the competition, which will be announced at a later date, will focus on the fabrication of a scaled habitat design, using indigenous materials combined with or without recyclables. For more information, visit http://www.nasa.gov/3DPHab.