Phase 3 Level 1 of Mars Habitat Contest Complete: 5 Models Chosen

The challenge was to design a habitat that could be 3D printed automatically from native materials found on Mars. During the next phase contestants will 3D print a small scale model 1/3rd the size of each final product in order to test for structural integrity.

Every team utilized building information modelling software to create a realistic digital version of their habitat in 3 dimensions – all of which had to meet a particular level of detail.

Some progressive construction organizations have actually began using virtual and augmented reality platforms to make a similiar process more intuitive  – modelling the entire building in 3 dimensions so that it can be displayed more accurately to a potential client. Perhaps future space architects could benefit from deploying a similar more intuitive strategy.

Since the Martian atmosphere is inhospitable and dangerous NASA has to set the bar for design pretty high. Architects must take into consideration such crucial aspects as the thickness of each wall from pressure sealing, air filtering elements, and heating, etc. Furthermore each habitat should contain at least three thousand square feet – enough to fit the inhabitants and their machinery for a year.

Each design was judged based on completeness, layout, viability and aesthetics.


Team Zopherus

Pennsylvania team “Zorpheus” won first place. Their project is characterized by a sheltered printing environment cordoned off from the rest of the environment. A 3D printer assembles the habitat inside of a dome sealed to the Martian surface which would come in handy during those violent dust storms.

The Zorpheus lander can scan terrain for an optimal starting point, deploy a robotic rover for material gathering and then move to the location using it’s 6 spider shaped robotic legs – a common feature in difficult terrain robotics. Upon arrival it can then lower itself to the ground, and seal off the open floor section so as to provide a sheltered and pressurized environment for printing over top of the Martian surface.

Another unique feature is that after finishing each structure Zorpheus can use that same hexapedal system to uproot itself and move to a new location. That of course makes it particularly useful for the assembly of multiple structures or even an entire colony.


AI SpaceFactory

AI SpaceFactory is more concerned with how to achieve the most economic use of space. They explain in detail how a towering cylinder design is the best possible shape for the job.  Aside from providing the most efficient use of floor space it is also one of the easiest to print.

“A simple trait study of spatial and material efficiency shows that a vertically oriented cylinder is the best formal basis for a surface habitat”

“Apart from being highly effective pressure vessels they provide the greatest ratios of usable floor area to surface area and usable floor area to volume and diameter”

“Reducing surface area means they can use less material under less stress”

“Reducing volume means reducing the energy load on mechanical systems”


Kahn Yates

A collaboration between Albert Kahn and Yates construction has yielded a habitat that extends an elongated arm from a central cylinder to print in 360 degrees. It also includes several un-packable floor plates that deploy in synchrony with certain height-based milestones reached by the arm.

Printing starts with extruding a solid foundation and then moves on to build a high strength plastic wall spotted with pores to let more light in. This habitat is also characterized by a spiraling staircase and large spacious greenhouse.


Upon landing the arm extends horizontally outward from this central cylinder.

It begins at the lowest height circling around to print the foundation first and then ascending vertically to print the habitats HPV/Concrete walls.

Floor plates unfold at particular intervals during this process until the entire habitat is unpacked.

SEArch+/Apis Cor

Search = /Apis Cor focuses on thwarting the dangers of radiation exposure whilst simultaneously maximizing exposure to healthy light. Their habitat is partially underground positioning portholes at strategic angles that avoid radiation while letting necessary light inside. There are also two different pressurized areas inside a larger dome-like shape and this sloping half underground design may expand potential locations for colonization (i.e. hills, mounds)

“non directional galactic cosmic radiation. most commonly transmitted from overhead, is addressed by the aggregate layering of the double shell design”

“on a flat martian site, radiation protection requires 1 meter of regolith at a mean density of 1.5 g/cm2 on all sides, relegating life to be buried underground without access to natural light or views”

“new radiation studies indicate that the density of mars atmosphere along the horizon can allow solar transmission up to 30 degrees above the horizon”


“retracted northern light horizontally penetrates the opening of the printed shells maintaining the minimum 1 meter protection required from direct solar gain from the south and CGRs from above”

Northwestern University 

The two most distinguishing features of NWUs Mars habitat are the use of an inflatable dome shaped foundation to print over top of as well as the habitats divided floor space in to “wet” and dry rooms in order to simplify plumbing. Some other features include a retractable wall between public and private rooms and the built in ability to link multiple domes together creating a colony.

The teams split a total of $100K for this phase.

In spring of 2019 they’ll be expected to have a working custom 3D printer that can create a 1:3 scale model.

The final reward for whichever model NASA decides to go with is 2 million dollars.





NASA’s 3D-printed Mars Habitat competition doles out prizes to concept habs

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