Above: “MARSHA” is a cylindrical 3D printed habitat designed to utilize space and energy as efficiently as possible. The multi-tiered structure is reinforced with basalt fiber—a material PISCES is researching for ISRU applications on Earth and in space. PC: AI Space Factory/Plompmozes.

AI Space Factory—a New York-based additive manufacturing company working with PISCES—won second place in NASA’s 3D Habitat Challenge for an innovative design that could one day support astronauts on Mars.

Resembling an upright thimble, the habitat is easier to print than conventional designs and provides optimal support for maintaining inside temperatures while efficiently routing air flow and energy. The habitat’s inner space is divided into separate floors connected by a winding staircase. Each tier has dedicated spaces including a lab, robotics garage, kitchen, personal quarters and recreational “sky room.”

To construct the concept habitat (called “MARSHA), the design called for basalt-fiber reinforced polylactic acid (PLA)—a durable and recyclable thermal plastic for the shelter’s main structure. AI Space Factory consulted with PISCES on basalt construction, drawing on years of experience with basalt sintering. PISCES provided samples of Hawaiian volcanic basalt, which share strong similarities with the regolith found on Mars.

AI Space Factory is among five top teams selected to share a $100,000 cash prize in the NASA competition, which began in 2014. The next phase will challenge winning teams to construct a scaled-down version of their habitat for a $2 million award.

The NASA 3D Habitat Challenge is an effort to cultivate and support innovative manufacturing technologies for the future. Engineers hope to see automated space robots building innovative habitats like those designed by AI Space Factory, paving the way to human space settlements beyond Earth. The same technologies could also benefit people on Earth by producing affordable housing, especially where access to conventional building materials is limited.