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Mars X-House: Continuing in the Quest to 3D Print the ExtraTerrestrial Habitat

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In the recently published ‘Mars X-House: Design Principles for an Autonomously 3D Printed ISRU Surface Habitat,’ authors from SEArch+ (Space Exploration Architecture) LLC, NASA Langley Research Center, and University of Colorado, Boulder are delving further into designing sustainable living space for Mars with the MARS X-HOUSE V.1 and MARS X-HOUSE V.2 architectural designs.

Both SEArch+ and Apis Cor have been participating in the NASA’s Phase III Centennial Challenge for a 3D Printed Habitat on Mars and have won the following:

  • 1st place in Construction Levels 1 and 2
  • 4th place in Virtual Design Level 1 (60% design)
  • 1st place in Virtual Design Level 2 (100% design)

The Mars X-House design overall is meant to shield future inhabitants from radiation above the surface of Mars, while also allowing in natural light and ‘supporting the physiological and psychological well-being’ of the astronauts. The two separate designs are meant for the two different Mars mission concepts that are different from previous ideals as they avoid ‘entombing’ habits under the surface to avoid radiation.

Left: Mars X-House 1. Right: Mars X-House 2

With the use of thermoplastic, fibrous, and cementitious materials, they hope to allow inhabitants to see light and enjoy the landscape of Mars. The researchers expect the first missions to Mars to require habitats made of a mix of both local materials and those transported there. As the authors point out, however, bringing items must be selective and there is ‘extreme cost’ in transport.

“As cargo support flights will likely only occur every two years, minimizing payload elements to high-technology equipment that cannot be produced locally is absolutely crucial to the economics of a sustainable Mars mission.”

The missions are important too in terms of science and engineering research—while many may dream of vacationing or traveling in space on a whim, these large-scale missions must be carefully thought out and supported both with research and funding. All these elements are still in the initial planning phase and are very dependent on housing, along with transportation plans as they expect flights to only happy every two years. Research will be required pertaining to materials, suitable technology, automated construction, and architecture.

Left: Apis Cor 3D-Printing Earth construction with gantry crane. Right: Modified Apis Cor radial gantry.

“A goal of Mars X-House has been to investigate and synthesize the constraints of the competition rules and parameters with the design of an autonomously-constructed structure for human habitation, including the constraints of the head-to-head competition, the constraints of current technologies and material developments. The designs presented herein contain some restraints based on the parameters of the competition brief and deliverables that would perhaps not otherwise be placed in the Mars mission context,” stated the researchers.

They will be considering three types of space architecture:

  • Class 1 – like the ISS, created with a hard-shell module that could be integrated on Earth
  • Class 2 – prefabricated and surface assembled
  • Class 3 – Space habitats integrating Class 1 & 2 modules

 “Both Mars X-House 1 and 2 followed the same architectural principles and through the rigorous and evidence based design development process led to different and specific results out of the same human-centered approach for health and safety with material and methods for autonomous fabrication at the core,” stated the researchers.

Mars X-House 1 defines material found on Mars, regolith, to be mainly compressive material, 3D printed into a radiation shield. Mars X-House 2 differs in that the 3D printed structure could be a ‘multi-level habitat’ with the necessary pressure boundary.

Layered Wall concept Mars X-House 1

Layered Wall Composition Mars X-House 2

“Our refined 3D printing prototypes developed by Apis Cor are not only applicable to construction on Earth but correspond and may be transferred to a mission-scenario for future 3D printed habitats as well as civic infrastructure. The concrete mixture combined with basalt fiber reinforcement enhances the structural integrity and robustness of the habitat, effectively and soundly protecting the crew,” concluded the researchers.

No matter what, the key will be 3D printing for constructing habitat and other critical materials such as tools. With regolith available, sustainability is possible for ongoing needs and maintenance, and the researchers advise that each habitable space should have a backup in case of emergency, and astronauts should be protected from toxins and pathogens. The researchers have also designed a mobile 3D printer for regolith-concrete, featuring a robotic arm.

How will life on Mars be? That’s a question that scientists, students, and many of us are curious about. So far, many different researchers have come up with plans, from creating tools for research to designing new Mars Rover concepts, and a variety of different moments.

What do you think of this news? Let us know your thoughts! Join the discussion of this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com.

Left: Mars X-House 1 showing two labs on the same floor in separate inflatables. Right: Mars X-House 2 separate lab spaces.

[Source / Images: ‘Mars X-House: Design Principles for an Autonomously 3D Printed ISRU Surface Habitat’]

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