NASA has issued a challenge to designers aimed at stimulating innovation in 3D printing solutions that may one day be the key to establishing a permanent presence on Mars.

Not only is 3D printing set to become the way of the future for construction here on Earth, ii will also be instrumental in establishing a permanent outpost on another planet.

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ESA has already conducted a series of studies geared towards building a Moonbase using an inflatable habitation area protected by 3D printed lunar regolith, now NASA has launched the multi-phase 3D Printed Habitat Challenge as part of its Centennial Challenges program.

The aim of the US$2.25 million competition is "to advance the additive construction technology needed to create sustainable housing solutions for Earth and beyond."

"The future possibilities for 3-D printing are inspiring, and the technology is extremely important to deep space exploration," says Sam Ortega, manager of the Centennial Challenges program. "This challenge definitely raises the bar from what we are currently capable of, and we are excited to see what the maker community does with it. "

The parameters of the competition require designs to be capable of holding four astronauts as they undertake training for a mission to the Red Planet. The first phase focusses on pushing applicants to put forwards ambitious new designs making use of cutting edge architectural technologies.

Phase 2 requires participants to develop technologies capable of harvesting local resources for use in the construction process. Finally, applicants must construct a full-scale habitat using local and re-purposed resources.

The potential benefits to the development of advanced 3D printed habitats is clear. Not only can it be used to provide affordable housing to those in need on Earth, but by cutting down on building materials required for transportation to Mars, the endeavour becomes more sustainable. This represents a considerable saving when you take into account that each pound of equipment sent into space costs the agency around US$10,000.

Phase 1 of the competition runs until September 27, with the top 30 submissions to be judged at the World Maker Faire in New York.

Source: NASA