After discovering flowing liquid water on the surface of Mars, NASA was quick to announce that they have officially started planning on a manned mission to the red planet. Which is convenient considering they just announced the winner of their 3D Printed Mars Habitat Challenge at last week’s New York Maker Faire. NASA and the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, America Makes, partnered up on the challenge that was launched back in May. They tasked entrants to create a process to fabricate 3D printed habitats for the colonization of other planets, primarily for Mars. Of course this was just the first part of the challenge, and the teams are expected to create working prototypes for the second. But for now, the current winner Team Space Exploration and Clouds Architecture Office can be proud of their fantastic Ice House design, which harnesses the newly discovered reserve of below ground water on Mars to 3D print massive ice domes on the surface.
Not only is Ice House a beautiful structure on its own, but it was intentionally designed to allow new Martian inhabitants to live above ground, not burrow beneath it as most of the other entered designs required. Not only would the ice shell act as a radiation barrier, it would also allow plenty of natural light inside. But the Ice House team didn’t just have some concept art and a theory, they also had an amazing 3D printed scale model made by California 3D Printing service provider Forecast 3D that really helped sell their concept.
“Working with Forecast 3D was fantastic. They were quick to respond and very communicative about all our options. Our team was working on an incredibly tight schedule but I’m so glad we were paired up with these guys to help ensure we had a winning project. The model is absolutely beautiful and caught almost everyone’s attention — and if I were to do this all over again there is no question I would choose Forecast 3D,” said Melodie Yashar, a mechanical engineer from Team Ice House.
Because the Ice House habitat was designed to be made of, well, actual ice, the team wanted the 3D printed replica to look like it was really made of frozen water. Forecast 3D decided to print the Ice House model using their in-house Stereolithography (SLA) 3D printers. SLA printers are capable of producing extremely high-resolution parts, so Forecast 3D wouldn’t have any difficulties producing the interior details of the Ice House model; unfortunately the icy finish was where things got complicated for them.
Real ice has a look to it that isn’t exactly easy to reproduce, especially using most 3D printing materials. There are certainly several materials and processes available that can produce clear parts, but natural ice isn’t completely transparent. So the team from Forecast 3D needed to do some experimenting with materials and post processing methods to find a way to accurately mimic the translucent characteristics of ice. They decided to start by using a clear liquid resin material called 11122 XC Watershed.
Typically when prints made with Watershed are completed they will be given a WaterClear coating that smooths the surface and turns the part nearly colorless, giving it a clear, glassy finish. But instead of the standard coating, the Forecast 3D finishing team developed their own custom hybrid finishing process that gave the material a frosted surface with a slight blueish tint. The effect is pretty spectacular, especially when you see the light pass through the walls almost exactly like they do in the concept artwork that the Ice House team produced.
“We often find ourselves working on innovative and exciting projects at Forecast 3D but working on a habitat for a Mars colonization was definitely one of the coolest things we have been a part of. Working with the SEArch/Clouds Architecture Office team on the ICE HOUSE project was fun and challenging as we had to make sure to choose the right process, material and finishing style to achieve the correct look. Our talented finishers did a great job coming up with a custom finishing method to realize the team’s vision and we were very happy with the way it turned out,” said Forecast 3D project manager Austin Morrison.
Make sure that you stop by the Mars Ice House website and learn more about this awesome Mars habitat concept project. You can also see all of the finalists from the 3D Printed Mars Habitat Challenge on NASA challenge blog. And you can learn more about the services available from Forecast 3D over on their website, including all of their available 3D printing options.
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