South Dakota Tribal College is part of NASA’s plan to build housing for use on the moon and Mars

Sinte Gleska University, a tribal college in Mission, SD, may soon enter into a partnership with NASA that will result in new science education programs, more affordable housing for state reservations and housing development 3D that could one day be used on the moon or Mars.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has already committed to the partnership and has allocated an investment of approximately $250,000 to the project which has the working title “Enhancing Research on Additive Manufacturing Processes for lunar application and planetary use in tribal housing development”.

On Monday, February 14, 2022, South Dakota’s House Energy and Commerce Committee will consider a bill to provide $300,000 in state matching funds to meet NASA project requirements. .

NASA hopes to recruit faculty, staff, and students from Sinte Gleska and other colleges in South Dakota to learn how to use 3D printing technology in the design and construction of concrete homes that can be built quickly and potentially at a third of the cost of conventional wooden housing. The homes would provide new affordable housing options in high-need reservation areas in South Dakota.

NASA would then monitor the state of the houses in high, freezing temperatures to determine if the houses can withstand the environment on the moon or Mars. NASA also wants to know if 3D housing can be built remotely, possibly on another planet, by designers on Earth.

The university and three Indian tribes—the Yankton, Crow Creek, and Oglala Lakota Sioux Tribes—form the South Dakota side of the partnership. Total funding for the project will include the purchase of a high-tech 3D printer used to design homes built with layered liquid concrete applied by machines.

The proposed project is seen by supporters as a way to improve the lives and futures of thousands of Native Americans in South Dakota and bring lasting, positive change to their communities where affordable housing is a critical need.

The program is also seen as a way to create a cutting-edge curriculum for students at Sinte Gleska and other South Dakota universities, and potentially spur the creation of other industries related to 3D home building.

“This is a pretty exciting opportunity for the state and the tribes to work together on a potentially game-changing economic development project,” said Ross Garelick Bell, a registered lobbyist in South Dakota who spent five years to bring together all the parts of the project. “They [Sinte Gleska] could become a major player in the 3D housing industry, and that would put South Dakota on the map in terms of learning about these new technologies.

This artist’s rendering shows 2,000 square foot 3D-designed house plans completed on the left and still under construction on the right for a housing development project in Texas. Photo: Courtesy of ICON

The use of 3D printers in residential construction, also known as “additive construction”, is still relatively new and similar to other 3D printing technologies that use computer-aided design to create blueprints of manufactured products. from plastic, liquids, concrete or solid powders.

In 3D printer house building, the designs of exterior and interior walls and other components are programmed into a computer. The design data is then sent to a machine with an outer arm that rapidly expels the liquid concrete in uniform layers that ultimately form vertical or horizontal walls or panels, including rounded or curved elements. The houses can then be topped with a traditional roof and siding, and the interior walls can be covered with paneling or wood so that the concrete is not visible. Walls can be constructed with hollow cores which can be filled with insulation.

Companies using the technology say homes can be built in days, potentially at one-third the material cost of a wood-frame or hand-built home.

NASA is pouring money into 3D printing in hopes the technology can be used to build structures and eventually homes on the moon and Mars. The lunar investigative project is called Artemis Mission, and the Martian project is called Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group, or MEPAG. NASA also has a project team called Moon to Mars Planetary Autonomous Construction Technologies.

As proposed, the Sinte Gleska project could potentially use 3D printing technology provided by ICON, a Texas-based home search and manufacturing company that describes itself on its website as “the building technology company using ‘construction-scale 3D printing to tackle the global housing crisis’. and get ready to build on other worlds.

ICON’s series of 3D printers, known as the Vulcan, have already been used to design and build six small homes for former homeless residents of Austin, Texas, as well as several other larger homes currently occupied. in the area, a 3,800-square-foot concrete barracks at Camp Swift in Bastrop, Texas, and a 20-foot-diameter concrete rocket landing pad for NASA that took just 21 hours to design and build.

ICON’s latest project is to use 3D printing technology to build 100 concrete homes in collaboration with national home-builder Lennar. The company is working with NASA to build a structure called Mars Dune Alpha, a 1,700 square foot building that simulates mission operations on Mars.

Click the arrow to watch ICON’s video of its 3D printer-designed home being built with Lavacrete, a proprietary concrete material developed by ICON. Image/video: Courtesy of ICONPlay video

Shawn Bordeaux, director of the Tribal Lands Institute at Sinte Gleska University, said the project with NASA will provide the tribal college with high-tech resources and improve its ability to engage in new research that will increase job prospects for students, mostly Native Americans. , in science and technology.

“It would be great for our students because it will provide them with a skill set that will make them very employable,” said Bordeaux, who is also a Democratic Mission state representative. “People will be looking for them to do this kind of work in the future.”

Bordeaux said the homes that will be built will help alleviate the lack of good quality affordable housing that has existed for years on the Rosebud Indian Reservation and other Indigenous communities and reservations.

“It’s a question of research, but it’s also a question of housing, because we have to fix our housing program,” Bordeaux said.

The NASA partnership would also give the Sinte Gleska and South Dakota Indian tribes a new prestige and sense of pride in being part of a forward-looking project with truly interplanetary goals.

“That’s the mission to Mars,” Bordeaux said. “We are literally getting funds to help a mission to Mars; we would be part of that effort, and how exciting is that? »

A fully 3D-designed house is constructed from a concrete-like material, which can be seen in layers on the exterior walls, but finished in a way that resembles a traditionally built house and not a typical concrete block house . Photo: Courtesy of Ross Garelick Bell

Rep. Rocky Blare, R-Ideal, the lead sponsor of HB 1281, said the project has the potential to jump-start educational opportunities and economic development in a remote part of South Dakota where growth has been slow.

“For the segment of the population and the areas that this will be focused on, in central South Dakota and on reservations, any opportunity like this will be celebrated,” he said.

Blare said he was confident the funding allocation for the project would go through committee and hopefully be approved by the full legislature.

“People are excited to see what it is,” he said. “It’s quite exciting and should pass.”

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