With space exploration advancing at a rapid pace, it won’t be long before we see humanity’s first home in another world using advanced off-world construction technologies.
To further develop efforts for building on the Moon, NASA has awarded ICON, a construction technologies company based in Austin, a contract to find practical off-world construction solutions for building on the lunar surface and on Mars. The primary objective of this partnership is to build infrastructures using 3D printing technology, including landing pads, habitats, and roads.
Who Is ICON?
ICON is a modern architecture and construction technologies firm that focuses on leveraging technology to deliver better buildings, faster. They are pioneers in the development of off-world construction solutions that can make building structures on the Moon and Mars more feasible.
ICON’s innovative approach involves using 3D printing technology to create habitats with high-strength materials that are specifically designed to withstand the harsh environment of space. Not only are companies like ICON and NASA working on technologies to build in space but they are also working on ways to use these same technologies to help solve vexing problems on Earth.
Project Olympus For Off-World Construction
Project Olympus is a construction system being designed for use in space, with the ultimate goal of assisting future explorations of the moon. It is essentially a ‘base-building kit’ that includes a mobile extruder, a robotic arm that fabricates structures out of lunar regolith (soil) and other construction components.
Project Olympus will be used to construct not only landing pads and roads but also habitats that will provide a safe and comfortable living environment for astronauts, as well as other structures necessary for a long-term human presence. Space exploration is entering an ambitious new era and companies like ICON are leading the way in developing the necessary technology.
ICON’s project will mainly take place under NASA’s Mars Planetary Autonomous Construction Technologies (MMPACT) Project at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
Off-World Construction Using 3D Printing Technology
In an effort to find practical solutions to build sustainable lunar structures, NASA has awarded the $57.2 million contract to ICON, which is also known for building the first-ever habitable 3D-printed home in the United States in 2018.
The new project is a continuation of ICON’s efforts to use 3D printing for structures in space missions as well as on Earth. The initiative, which has been partly funded by NASA and the U.S. Airforce under a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract, has looked at ways to expand the possibilities of 3D printing structures for use in space missions and “explore commonalities between Earth-based and off-Earth applications.”
It will involve testing and developing a 3D-printing system that can be used to construct large-scale, inhabitable structures on the Moon or any other off-world environment. The system would be able to utilise planetary resources such as lunar soil or regolith, which is abundant in space and on the Moon.
Building Partnerships For Future Space Missions
NASA has partnered with several private companies to cover more ground in their exploration of the moon under the Artemis project. Niki Werkheiser, Director at Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) stated that this progress is essential for future missions, adding that “pushing this development forward with our commercial partners will create the capabilities we need for future missions.”
With the new Phase III of SBIR, ICON will be focusing on the development of their Project Olympus construction system. By finding ways to sustainably use Lunar and Martian space resources, future space missions are even more promising as humans will be able to remain on the surface for extended periods.
“In order to explore other worlds, we need innovative new technologies adapted to those environments and our exploration needs,” said Werkheiser.
Building a base on the Moon or Mars is slated as the most ambitious construction project in human history. It will literally take science, engineering, technology, and architecture to new heights and mankind’s continued investment in such technologies will go a long way in advancing the space race.
With companies like ICON at the forefront of developing technology to enable sustainable off-world construction, our dreams of exploring the great unknowns of space could soon be realised. The next time you look up into the night sky, know that a sustainable human presence on the Moon and beyond is closer than ever before. However, it won’t be anything like the much-anticipated open-world space exploration game, Starfield — at least not yet.