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August 22, 2017 | Tom Ballard

Branch Technology competing in NASA challenge later this week

Branch TechnologyBy Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

The next four days are a big opportunity for the team at Chattanooga’s Branch Technology.

It’s the “Phase 2, Level 3 head-to-head ground competition” in NASA’s $2.5 million challenge to build a 3D-printed habitat for deep space exploration, including the agency’s journey to Mars.

We stopped by Branch’s operations in Chattanooga’s INCubator last week where we chatted with both Founder Platt Boyd and David Fuehrer, Director of Sales, where we learned more about the NASA challenge.

Launched more than two years ago, this weekend’s competition at Caterpillar Corporation’s Edwards Demonstration & Learning Center near Peoria, IL completes the second phase of the three-phase event. In partnership with Foster + Partners, a global firm, Branch will be printing a four-foot diameter dome.

Fuehrer says Branch has outfitted a trailer that will be driven to the competition site. “We can print on demand in that trailer,” he explained.

The Branch-Foster team has done very well thus far, most recently capturing third place and $63,000 in the Phase 2, Level 2 beam competition that was focused on finding ways to 3D print habitation structures using recyclables and simulated Martian soil, a technology goal that could support deep space exploration and advance construction capabilities on Earth.

The third place award brought Branch Technology’s total amount won thus far to more than $150,000. Prize money to be awarded this weekend is $250,000 for first place, $150,000 for second place, and $100,000 for third spot.

As noted in this NASA release, the second of three sub-competitions within Phase 2 required teams to print a beam for bend testing. Scores were calculated based on the material composition and the maximum load of the beam at failure.

Phase 1 of the competition called on participants to develop state-of-the-art architectural concepts that take advantage of the unique capabilities 3D printing offers. That was obviously a high hanging curve ball for the Chattanooga company that has quickly earned a national reputation for its work.

The top 30 submissions were judged, and prize money was awarded at the 2015 World Maker Faire in New York.

Phase 2, which will end with this weekend’s competition, challenges competitors to demonstrate a recycling system that can create structural components using terrestrial and space-based materials and recyclables.

Phase 3 details have not yet been announced.

We first met Boyd in mid-2015 when we conducted the interview for this article. At the time, he was a participant in CO.LAB’s “GIGTANK” accelerator.

Boyd told us that the company is making good progress, and that was obvious with the number of employees at its operation since we last visited about two years ago. Business demands have also required Branch Technology to order four new robots.

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