A Texas-based company plans to take its novel home-building approach into the final frontier: the Moon.
The startup, named ICON and known for 3D-printing houses, just announced its new Project Olympus, an aspiring program to create a space-based construction system. The project will ultimately help humans grip on the Moon and Mars if all goes as planned.
“From the very founding of ICON, we’ve been thinking about off-world construction. It’s a surprisingly natural progression if you are asking about the ways additive construction and 3D printing can create a better future for humanity,” Jason Ballard, ICON co-founder, and CEO, revealed in a company statement.
“I am confident that learning to build on other worlds will also provide the necessary breakthroughs to solve housing challenges we face on this world. These are mutually reinforcing endeavors,” he added.
Project Olympus will be helped by a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract that ICON signed with the U.S. Air Force not long ago to enhance the capabilities of its 3D-printing technology.
The four-year collaboration is worth $14.55 million, the Austin Business Journal reports. NASA is giving 15 percent of the SBIR sum, according to ICON representatives.
Establishing a Human Presence on the Moon
NASA’s interest in ICON’s innovative technology is not surprising. The space agency is working, through its Artemis program of manned lunar missions, to set up a long-term human presence on and around Earth‘s natural satellite by the end of the 2020s.
Making this a reality will request extensive use of lunar resources, such as water ice – for life support and rocket fuel – and Moon dirt – for building materials – NASA representatives have emphasized.
A similar project to ‘living off the land’ will probably be required for a sustained human investigation of Mars, an ambitious target that Artemis will appraise and advance, the space agency said.
As part of the newly revealed SBIR deal, ICON will collaborate with NASA’s Marshal Space Flight Center in Alabama to test a number of processing and printing technologies using simulated lunar soil. The research will put to use the tech that ICON demonstrated back in 2018 during NASA’s 3D Printed Habitat Challenge.
“We want to increase the technology readiness level and test systems to prove it would be feasible to develop a large-scale 3D printer that could build infrastructure on the moon or Mars,” Corky Clinton, associate director of Marshall’s Science and Technology Office, said in a statement. “The team will use what we learn from the tests with the lunar simulant to design, develop, and demonstrate prototype elements for a full-scale additive construction system.”
Project Olympus will be supported by other collaborations as well. For instance, ICON is partnering with two architecture companies on the program: SEArch+ (Space Exploration Architecture) and Denmark-based BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group.
“To explain the power of architecture, ‘form-giving’ is the Danish word for design, which literally means to give form to that which has not yet been given form. This becomes fundamentally clear when we venture beyond Earth and begin to imagine how we are going to build and live on entirely new worlds,” BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group founder and creative director Bjarke Ingels said in the ICON statement.
Ingles added: “With ICON, we are pioneering new frontiers — both materially, technologically and environmentally. The answers to our challenges on Earth very well might be found on the Moon.”