In 2021, NASA partnered with 3D printing construction Icon company to design and build habitats to help NASA better understand how humans might survive on Mars in the future.

This startup Icon has already implemented several projects on Earth. They are working to take 3D printing to new heights through habitable building in space.

By June 2023, there were already the first four humans to live in this space for more than a year to experience living conditions on the Red Planet.

In preparation for “sending astronauts to Mars” in spring 2025, NASA is seeking applicants to participate in its second of three planned ground-based missions called CHAPEA (Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog). The next 4 people will live in the habitat simulated by 3D printing technology called Mars Dune Alpha.

What Is Inside Mars Dune Alpha?

The habitat, called the Mars Dune Alpha, is a 1,700-square-foot, 3D-printed habitat based at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. This 1,700-square-foot house features four crew quarters, a gym and two bathrooms. Mars Dune Alpha is also equipped with a vertical farm to grow lettuce, a medical room, recreation area and workplace.

The surrounding house is covered with red regolith as on Mars. The lab site also had a weather station, a brick machine, a small greenhouse and a conveyor belt that volunteers would be suspended from with belts.

Notably, Mars Dune Alpha is entirely built using 3D printing technology. "This is one of the technologies that NASA is working on to potentially build habitats on the surfaces of other planets," said Grace Douglas, CHAPEA program manager.

According to NASA, the simulated habitat is designed to resemble Mars as much as possible, including resource limitations, equipment failures, communication delays, and other environmental stressors. Melodie Yashar, director of architecture and construction at Icon, "Simulated habitats primarily help with interior space research, crew health, and food systems. The actual construction on Mars comes with many difficulties such as a long flight journey, the risk of losing contact and the inability to evacuate. That could make robotic autonomous construction a much bigger challenge."

How Did ICON Use 3D Printing To Build Mars Dune Alpha?

Icon used its next-generation Vulcan construction system and a proprietary material called lavacrete to 3D-print the habitat. Lavacrete is a type of concrete that can be made from various sources, including lunar and Martian regolith. Icon’s Vulcan system is capable of printing large-scale structures with high precision and speed, using a robotic arm and a gantry.

Icon’s 3D-printed habitat is a groundbreaking achievement for space-based construction, as it demonstrates the feasibility and benefits of using additive manufacturing to create habitats for future explorers. Icon’s technology could reduce the cost and complexity of launching materials from Earth, and enable more sustainable and adaptable solutions for living on other worlds.

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