Construction company ICON has been chosen to develop the first lunar building technologies for NASA as part of its Project Olympus program, which will see 3D-printed infrastructure such as landing pads built on the moon‘s surface.
The contract builds upon the funding for Project Olympus that ICON and architecture studio BIG were awarded in 2020, which aims to develop a way to create 3D-printed buildings for living on the moon using materials found on its surface.
The new contract, worth $57.2 million (£47 million), was awarded under the third phase of NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. This is partially funded by the US government’s Department of Defence and will focus specifically on space-based construction technologies.
Above: NASA has chosen ICON for phase III of Project Olympus. Top image: A 3D printer will be placed on the moon. Courtesy of ICON/BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group
ICON’s 3D-printing construction technology will be used to build elements necessary for living on the moon, such as roads, launchpads and homes, in order to create a lunar base or outpost for humans.
“In order to explore other worlds, we need innovative new technologies adapted to those environments and our exploration needs,” director of technology maturation at NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate Niki Werkheiser said.
“Pushing this development forward with our commercial partners will create the capabilities we need for future missions.”
Austin-based ICON will construct a large 3D printer that could be carried to the moon in a spacecraft. Once on the planetary surface, it will transform materials found on the moon, such as dust, into building materials.
“ICON’s Olympus system is intended to be a multi-purpose construction system primarily using local lunar and martian resources as building materials to further the efforts of NASA as well as commercial organizations to establish a sustained lunar presence,” ICON explained.
Buildings will be designed to withstand the moon’s lower gravity conditions.
Project Olympus falls under NASA’s Artemis program, which plans for long-term human exploration of the moon, and the infrastructure is designed to allow for human habitation on the moon in the future.
“To change the space exploration paradigm from ‘there and back again’ to ‘there to stay’, we’re going to need robust, resilient, and broadly capable systems that can use the local resources of the moon and other planetary bodies,” said ICON co-founder and CEO Jason Ballard.
“We’re pleased that our research and engineering to-date has demonstrated that such systems are indeed possible, and we look forward to now making that possibility a reality,” Ballard continued.
“The final deliverable of this contract will be humanity’s first construction on another world, and that is going to be a pretty special achievement.”
ICON is currently also collaborating with NASA and BIG on Mars Dune Alpha, a 3D-printed structure designed to simulate living on Mars.
A number of other architecture studios are also exploring building on the moon.
Architecture studio SOM and the European Space Agency designed a settlement for living on the Moon that is made up of inflatable modules and aptly named Moon Village.
Meanwhile, British architecture studio Foster + Partners unveiled a proposal to 3D print buildings on the lunar body.
Renderings courtesy of ICON unless otherwise stated.
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