Students, faculty celebrate second-place win at NASA 3D Habitat Challenge


By Alexandra Kohr

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Faculty and students who are part of the PennStateDen@Mars research team have placed second in Phase 3, Level 2 of the NASA 3D Habitat Challenge in Peoria, Ill. from Aug. 23-26. Their win has not only secured them a spot in the next level of competition but has also given the team $33,000 to begin developing new technology for the next stage of the challenge.

The team was comprised of students from several colleges and departments at Penn State, including the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering; the Department of Architectural Engineering; the School of Engineering Design, Technology, and Professional Programs and the College of Arts and Architecture. Many of the students and faculty have been working on the challenge since January 2017.

The premise of this phase of the NASA 3D Printed Habitat Challenge was to build a foundation that included materials that would be similar to indigenous material on Mars. After the design was created, the foundation needed to be constructed using a 3D printer without any human interaction.

Once the foundation was printed, it was then subject to testing using an Olympic shotput to simulate meteor strikes, as well as thawing and freezing tests to simulate extreme temperature changes. The goal of the challenge was to utilize these materials to eventually sustain human life on places like the moon and Mars.

Maryam Hojati, a research associate at Penn State and senior researcher on the project, said, “The nature of this project is a bit different than other research projects at Penn State. The time is very tight, and this is a very fast-paced, interdisciplinary project.”

Moving forward, Hojati explained that the team will need to print a cylindrical tank and create a virtual construction design of a habitat by December 2018 and will need to print a subscale habitat by May 2019.

The enthusiasm from both students and faculty has been overwhelmingly positive moving forward into the next phases of competition.

“This second-place win shows that our team is doing great in this very difficult printing process,” said Ali Memari, professor of architectural engineering and civil engineering and one of the faculty advisers on the project. “Most teams that enter this competition end up giving up since their printing apparatus will not work. The students working on the project are some of the best we have at Penn State, and we are very proud of them.”


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Alexandra Kohr 

Jennifer Matthews 

photo of 3D printer

The 3D printer constructing the foundation, which is made out of materials similar to those found on Mars. In order to complete the challenge, the foundation had to be constructed without human interaction.

"The students working on the project are some of the best we have at Penn State, and we are very proud of them.”



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