The Branch Technology and Foster + Partners team

It’s an amazing thought that many people alive on Earth today might, in their lifetimes, see humans landing on – and even living on – Mars. It’s even more likely that we’ll see people living and working long-term on the moon before that. And when either of those days come, it’s extremely likely that people will be living and working in 3D printing housing on the moon and/or Mars. Now, it’s beginning to look quite possible that that housing will be designed by Branch Technology and Foster + Partners.

The two companies have formed a team for the ongoing 3D Printed Habitat Challenge launched by NASA in 2015. The challenge asks participants to use 3D printing to develop livable structures for use on the moon and Mars, as well as back here on Earth. The competition has been broken down into three phases, with each phase comprising multiple levels that each end with a winner receiving prize money and recognition. Consistently, the Branch Technology and Foster + Partners team has been among those winners – in fact, they’ve now been among the top three in each level of Phase Two.

Level One of Phase Two involved 3D printing two structures: a cone and a cylinder, which were then subjected to multiple lab tests to determine which team would win that level. The Branch and Foster team took first place in that round, taking home $85,930 in prize money. Level Two required the construction of a 3D printed beam, which was then submitted for bend testing. While first place in that round went to Team Moon X Construction from South Korea, Branch Technology and Foster + Partners weren’t far behind, winning third place and $63,783.

Now Level Three of Phase Two has been completed, and Branch Technology and Foster + Partners are back on top, winning first place and $250,000. This round involved 3D printing a dome structure in addition to the beam and cylinder, and the activities of the round took place onsite at Caterpillar’s Edwards Demonstration and Learning Center in Peoria, Illinois from August 23rd to 26th. On August 26th, a check was presented to the winning team by Jim Reuter, Deputy Associate Administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.

“The advancement and innovation in additive construction that we’ve seen from these teams is inspiring,” said Reuter. “Meeting the technology goals of this challenge proves that competition can push boundaries, and their work puts us that much closer to preparing the way for deep space exploration.”

The Branch and Foster team’s 3D printed dome held 3,726 pounds of ultimate load, launching them past 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.”

The Pennsylvania State University team

Second place in Level Three went to Pennsylvania State University of University Park, which won $150,000. Next up will be Phase Three, which will involve the construction of complete habitats.

The 3D Printed Habitat Challenge is one of NASA’s Centennial Challenges, which are run through the Space Technology Mission Directorate. Partnering with NASA for the 3D Printed Habitat Challenge is Bradley University of Peoria, while additional co-sponsors include Caterpillar, Bechtel and Brick and Mortar Ventures.

“Being a part of this competition has been an extraordinary opportunity for Bradley University,” said Bradley University President Gary Roberts. “Our students, faculty, staff and the Peoria community had a chance to see history in the making. We are a part of transforming technology and reshaping the way we think about construction. This was inspiring, and I am certain it changed the lives of many who experienced it.”

Discuss in the Habitat Challenge forum at 3DPB.com.

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