Though the field is still relatively new, 3D-printed architecture could prove a real boon to potential Mars colonizers. Inspired by NASA's competition seeking ideas for potential 3D-printed Mars habitats, French firm Fabulous has designed a conceptual shelter, dubbed Sfero, that would be 3D-printed on the Red Planet using locally-available materials.
Resembling a futuristic igloo from the surface, the Sfero shelter would be partially buried beneath the ground. Access to the shelter would be gained by its one long corridor, which contains an airlock.
The interior comprises three floors. The uppermost floor, which looks more like a mezzanine, measures just 3 sq m (32 sq ft), and is given over totally to growing foodstuffs, while the next floor down measures 29 sq m (312 sq ft) and comprises a work area and bathroom. Finally, the lowermost floor measures 40 sq m (430 sq ft), and contains sleeping quarters. The occupants would navigate between each floor by a spiral staircase.
Fabulous envisions that the Red Planet's own substrata could be used as a raw material for 3D printing. It's not entirely clear how this would work, but the process involves a central mast that would extract iron from the planet's soil and rock, and also seek out permafrost to turn into water and use as insulation between the structure's inner and outer shell, reducing the effects of solar radiation.
"The central pole is buried in the Martian soil by drilling," says the firm (via Google Translate). "The objective is to bury several meters to build solid foundations and also to seek the permafrost that will be liquefied for feeding the aqueous pocket. Once embedded, the mast deploys two robot arms, one of which sucks and sorts the material to extract the iron, and the other housing built by metal 3D printing."
The firm imagines the shelter being tested in California's Mojave Desert or somewhere in Hawaii, while the Gale Crater is slated as the shelter's final Mars location.
The concept is almost certainly not going to be realized, but designs like this and the Queen B (Bioshielding) may offer a clue as to what kind of structure could eventually be used to keep astronauts alive in the extreme environment of Mars. The European Space Agency is also considering building a 3D-printed moonbase.