Settling Mars: The Mars Base Challenge 2014

mars-colonyLife on Mars can’t become a reality without some serious design concepts and engineering. And that’s why Thingiverse, in cooperation with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, conduct the Makerbot Mars Base Challenge every year. Taking Mars’ extreme conditions into consideration, people are tasked with designing a utilitarian Mars base that can withstand the elements and make settlers feel at home.

The competition opened on May 30th and received some 227 submissions. The challenge brief asked entrants to take into account the extreme weather, radiation levels, lack of oxygen and dust storms when designing their Martian shelters. And the winning entries will each be awarded a MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printer in order to help them fully explore their designs for Martian abodes.

And although the applicants did not always nail the science, their designs have a novelty that has not been seen in some time. This can especially be seen in with this years finalists, which included a design for a Martian pyramid, a modular beehive and a three-tiered Acropolis.

MarsChallengeResultsThe Thingiverse community appears to have been hugely supportive, printing out the designs themselves and offering handy hints in the comment section beneath each entry. Some were dismissed for being impractical; for example, those that would be immediately flattened or kill all of its inhabitants if it were installed on the Martian surface. But one designer, Noah Hornberger, points out:

A toy car does not need fuel because it runs on the imagination of the child who drives it around. So it seems to me that I’m driving my toy car at full speed and you are here telling me what kind of fuel and oil it needs to run. I would rather leave the physics to the right people.

Luckily, that’s what NASA is on hand for – to ensure that it’s not just the mathematicians and engineers that have an interest or a say in our Martian future, but to make sure those designs and dreams that come from the public meet the basic scientific and engineering requirements. Bringing together inspired ideas and realistic needs, here’s how this year’s finalists measured up.

MarsPryamid-4_Feature_preview_featured This Mars structure is designed with resource consumption and allocation in mind, and also takes into account that the majority of activity would be taking place inside the structure rather than outside. As its creator, Valcrow. explained:

High traffic rooms all have ample natural Martian light to help with the crews extended isolation and confinement… This design focuses on looping essential systems into as many multi-functional roles as possible to ensure that the very limited resources are used and reused as much as possible.

This includes food created through a sustainable aquaponics system which would sit at the top of the pyramid, where it can get some light. A mirror-based series of solar panels will be responsible for collecting energy, with a nuclear generator for backup, and water would be stored near the main power center so that it heats up. The whole thing is inspired by the Pyramid of Giza, but unlike that beauty it can be reconfigured for science or engineering tasks and experiments.

Mars_beehiveThis second design, known as the Queen B because of its modular beehive configuration, comes with all the mod cons and home comforts you might expect on Earth – a kitchen, two bathrooms, a garden, and a 3D print lab and decompression room. Its creator, Noah Hornberger, chose a flat-panelled, low-level design that would be cheap and easy to build and allow for less heat energy to be lost. The hexagon shape was chosen for its durability and ability to form modular designs.

Depleted uranium would be used to create laminated panels that would shield out the elements, but would need to be sandwiched between other materials to make it safe for the occupants. An exothermic chemical reactor would meanwhile be used to heat an underground water container, which will provide heat for the basecamp. Excess steam could also power generators to supplement solar power.

Speaking on behalf of his creation, Hornberger said:

I have extrapolated on the idea of a fully functional apartment on Mars with all the modern amenities fitted inside 16-foot-diameter hexagons. I think that to present Mars life to people and actually make it appealing to the public it needs to feel like home and reflect the lifestyle trends of Earth living.

Mars_acropolisAnd last, but not least, there’s the Mars Acropolis – a design that blends materials used here on Earth to create a classic futurist design that looks like it would be at home in the classic Fritz Lang film. Concrete, steel and Martian soil help form the outer wall that protects the population, while carbon fibre, stainless steel, aluminium and titanium would be used to build the main body.

Three greenhouses contain the vegetation and help filter the air and produce oxygen, and there are decompression chambers at the entrance. On level two, residents can park their shuttles before entering the living quarters and labs, while level three acts as the nerve center – with flight operators and observation posts. It’s joined by a huge water reservoir that flows to the first level for purification.

Designer Chris Starr describes the layout as follows:

The structure serves as a mass research facility, to explore and develop means for additional colonization of the planet. Due to the water vapour contained in the Martian atmosphere, that vapour can be harnessed into usable liquid water, where the condensation is collected from the water vapour, which is filtered back into the reservoir.

mars_one2In all cases, the designs draw attention to the fact that any structures intended for life on Mars will have to achieve a balance between resource management, comfort and entertainment, and security against the elements. At this point, there’s no telling exactly what a Martian settlement will look like; but as always, the truth will likely be stranger than fiction. To see more designs that made it to the Mars Base Challenge this year, check out Thingiverse’s website.

Sources: wired.co.uk, thingiverse.com

Update: 3D-Printed Gun Faces Crackdown

defense-distributed-liberator,Z-M-383602-13Just a few days ago, Defense Distributed announced the creation of the world’s first gun that is made entirely out of 3D-printed parts. And as anticipated, it didn’t take long for a crackdown to ensue. The group’s leader Cody Wilson, after conducting the first successful firing test of “The Liberator”, claimed that the blueprints would be uploaded to the open-source website Defcad so they would be available to anyone.

Yesterday, less than a week after the announcement was made, Mr. Wilson claimed that Defcad is “going dark” at the request of the U.S. Department of Defense Trade Controls. Defense Distributed runs the website, which has been a provider of weapons-related 3D printer blueprints since the group was founded.

Defense Distributed new magazines

As of yesterday, the site contained only a brief message explaining why it the Liberator blueprints were no longer available:

Defcad files are being removed from public access at the request of the U.S. Department of Defence Trade Controls. Until further notice, the United States government claims control of the information.

The group’s twitter feed also contained the following message:

#DEFCAD has gone dark at the request of the Department of Defense Trade Controls. Take it up with the Secretary of State.

The weapon itself was the result of eight months of research and testing on behalf of Wilson and his group. In that time, the group has become a source of controversy due to their dedication to making blueprints for printable gun parts available online. These include components for AR-15 assault weapon and extended magazines for an AK-47 assault rifle.

defense_distmagHowever, the Liberator, named in honor of the single-shot pistols that were dropped on France during the Second World War, was the first set of blueprints that was made entirely out of ABS plastic, making it the first open-source “Wiki-weapon” that would be available to anyone with the means to print it.

As a result of their commitment to open-source weaponry, Defense Distributed has become the subject of penalties and restrictions. In fact, Defcad was created after Makerbot Industries chose to purge all of the group’s gun blueprints from the website. Shortly after they test-fired an AR-15 that included printed parts, Wilson and his associates also had their 3D printer, which they had been leasing, seized.

defense_dist1This latest decision targets their activities at their source. However, the decision to take the plans off of Defcad did not present an estimated 10,000 downloads. However, it is not clear if those who obtained the plans will be able to print them off at their local printing shop. Only those who already possess a 3D printing unit, which is likely to run them between $1000 and $3000 dollars will be able to produce their own version of the Liberator.

In short, this issue is not yet resolved. Knowing Wilson and his admirers, open-source, printable weapons are likely to remain a contentious issue for some time to come…

Source: cbc.ca

Gun Parts Purged from 3D Printing Database

Defense_DistributedBack in December, the 3D printing company MakerBot announced its decision to purge designs for AR15 components and other weapons from its 3D printing wesbsite, known as Thingiverse. Prior to this date, it was perfectly legal to download the components of an AR-15 assault weapon from the internet.

This weapon was not only one of the guns used in the recent Newton, Connecticut shooting, it is also the weapon that Distributed Defense – a Wiki Weapons group – claims to have successfully created using 3D printed parts. In a statement released to the public, Makerbot’s spokesperson cited Terms of Service and legal issues as the reason for the decision:

“Thingiverse’s Terms of Service state that users agree not to use Thingiverse “to collect, upload, transmit, display, or distribute any User Content (ii) that…promotes illegal activities or contributes to the creation of weapons, illegal materials or is otherwise objectionable.” If an item has been removed, it is because it violates the Thingiverse Terms of Service.”

To wit, these Terms of Service have not changed, but Makerbot’s enforcement of them certainly has. By law, the company has the right to pull any items from its file list that they feel could be used in the commission of  crime. And since one of the most heinous crimes imaginable was commissioned using parts that are freely available on their site, this change is hardly surprising.

Personally, the decision seems like a no-brainer. And simply saying they don’t want people using their website to construct guns and go on shootings sprees would have sufficed for me, no need to justify it by citing legal articles! However, said components and other firearm parts still remain available on several other open source internet websites. No telling if and when they will follow Makerbot’s lead, but I think we can expect them to endorse the ban while they can still do it willingly.

Given the pressure that has been placed on the White House to ban the sale of firearms of late, especially assault weapons, and the attention Defense Distributed got with their creation of an AR-15 rifle using certain “printable parts”, it quite likely that a gun control provision will be passed that makes it illegal to print any and all gun components.

Source: news.cnet.com

3D Printers Now Available for Retail Purchase

For those familiar with 3D Printing, there’s some good news to be had. It seems that the New York-based manufacturer MakerBot recently announced the creation of a retail version of the technology. Known as the Replicator 2 (a clear shout-out to Star Trek), this new model is an improvement on their prototype, and will be affordable enough for your average corner store to stock.

Selling for $2,199, the Replicator 2 costs about as much as high-end Xerox machine, but can do so much more. According to factory specs, it boasts a 100 micron printing resolution, a build volume of 410 cubic inches (11.2 inches long by 6 inches wide by 6.1 inches high) and comes in a powdered steel frame. Those specs are clear upgrades from those of the older model, which had a 250 micron print resolution, a wooden frame, and a 300-cubic-inch build volume.

Naturally, I imagine that some people are wondering if this in fact the beginning of Replicator technology. Sure, it’s a far cry from a matter compiler that can create food, drinks, and consumer products from scratch, but it is a start, isn’t it? And if what we’ve been told about the cultivation of organic material for printing 3-D meat is true, it won’t be long before various edibles are on the menu. 7-11 is likely to be backed up then, huh? Selling, Slurpies, milk, candy and fresh-printed meat! Oh, the future is… weird!

And for those unfamiliar with 3D printing, check out this video below. It is sure to impress!