May 2, 2019
Caterpillar has teamed up again with NASA for the 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge. The challenge is all about finding innovative ways to design and print a habitat that could be used for deep space exploration, including a possible journey to Mars. These innovations have applications on Earth today too.
“The challenge is opening the scope for current technology. With each innovation, others can see what’s available in 3D-printing and then adapt it to what they need to do,” said Eric Bonk, Caterpillar 3D Modeler and Designer. “It’s all about moving technology forward and finding what might be applicable to the challenges we face.”
According to Eric, 3D printing at Caterpillar gives us a world of possibilities and a way to re-imagine the future. Not only does 3D printing let us see early design concepts in new ways, it also has the potential to change how we support our customers during the full life cycle of a product. How? By printing a part that hasn’t been manufactured in decades with a push of a button. Ultimately, this is going to help our customers be more successful and efficient.
So, how will the breakthroughs happen? It’s going to take individuals who are innovators at heart. In fact, individuals in STEM careers today are already helping drive innovations needed for the future. Those innovations will ultimately play a role in creating habitats and other infrastructure necessary to survive on a planet like Mars.
Caterpillar has always been a driver of innovation and we’re proud to be a place where innovation and creativity is encouraged. Our collaborations with groups like NASA make it possible to see real progress now (think: autonomy, 3D printing, remote control) as building blocks to future.
NASA’s goal is to one day have people living on Mars. However, first we must overcome a few challenges: there’s no place to buy building supplies (have you seen a hardware store on Mars?) and shipping costs are too expensive. How do we build structures if you can’t buy what you need or ship it?
You use the materials already there like loose, fine dirt called regolith, along with basalt and frozen water. We might call this “living off the land.” NASA’s term for it is “In-Situ Resource Utilization.” This concept is not new; people have been building igloos or huts using mud for thousands of years. On Mars, habitats would be composed of Martian dust called regolith – as well as recycled materials, binding agents and water. 3D-printing on-site using automated robots would complete the habitats.
Caterpillar’s Industrial Design Center created this site is an example of what a habitat on Mars might look like. You can see in the diorama that the dome shield is made to look as though it’s in the process of being printed, but it’s not a finished product yet. On Mars, the shield would help protect the inhabitants from dangerous galactic cosmic radiation.
The dollhouse was 3D-printed to show how astronauts might live on Mars.
Check out some facts about the habitat in the infographic below.
So what’s this all about? In the end, it’s all about the customer. We want to be better equipped to develop disruptive technologies that solve both their current challenges and future ones.
Overall, the 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge may help bring us closer to a day when people can successfully and sustainably live on the Red Planet. But either way it sheds a light on the possibilities in 3D printing technology which will definitely change life on Earth.
Learn more about the dollhouse 'habitat' that was 3D-printed to show how astronauts might live on Mars.
Created by Caterpillar's own industrial design team, the habitat consists of different levels that would serve diverse functions for a team in space.
This diorama shows an example of what a habitat on Mars might look like, complete with remote control Caterpillar machines!