Along with the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (known as America Makes), NASA has devised the multi-phase 3D Printed Habitat Challenge to advance the additive construction technology needed to create sustainable housing solutions for Earth and beyond.

It is part of NASA's Centennial Challenges programme. "The future possibilities for 3D printing are inspiring and the technology is extremely important to deep space exploration," said Sam Ortega, Centennial Challenges programme manager.

In the first phase of the competition, participants are to develop state-of-the-art architectural concepts that take advantage of the unique capabilities 3D printing offers. The top 30 submissions will be judged and a prize purse of USD 50,000 will be awarded at the 2015 World Maker Faire in New York.

The second phase of the competition is divided into two levels. Level 1 focuses on the fabrication technologies needed to manufacture structural components from a combination of indigenous materials and recyclables, or indigenous materials alone. Level 2 challenges competitors to fabricate full-scale habitats using indigenous materials or indigenous materials combined with recyclables.

Both levels carry a USD 1.1 million prize each. Winning concepts and products will help NASA build the technical expertise to send habitat-manufacturing machines to distant destinations, such as Mars, to build shelters for the human explorers who follow.

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