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 receiving consulting support from PISCES—won second place in NASA’s 3D Habitat Challenge for an innovative design that could one day support astronauts on Mars.

Designed as a cylinder reminiscent of a thimble, the 3D printed habitat is no yarn. Its vertical-standing shape is easier to print and provides optimal support for maintaining inside temperatures while efficiently routing air flow and energy. The habitat’s inner space is divided into multiple floors connected by a winding staircase. Each tier provides a dedicated space including a lab, robotics garage, kitchen, personal quarters and recreational “sky room.”

To construct the conceptual habitat (called “MARSHA), the design calls for basalt-fiber reinforced polylactic acid (PLA)—a durable and recyclable thermal plastic that would comprise the shelter’s main structure. PISCES provided consulting support on basalt construction to Space Factory, drawing on several years of experience in basalt sintering research. PISCES also 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 of the future. Engineers hope to one day see automated robots deployed into deep space to build ingenious biospheres like those designed by AI Space Factory, paving the way to human space settlement on other planets. The same technologies could also benefit people living on Earth by producing affordable housing, especially where access to conventional building materials is limited.