Dec 1, 2022
In a quest to find practical solutions to build sustainable structures on the moon, NASA has furthered its partnership with ICON, a construction technologies company based in Austin, Texas. The firm is known for building the first-ever habitable 3D-printed home in the United States in 2018.
The space agency has now awarded a $57.2 million contract to ICON to devise solutions that "could help build infrastructure such as landing pads, habitats, and roads on the lunar surface," according to the press release.
With a series of contracts with private players, NASA aims to supplement its long-term human exploration missions to the moon under the Artemis project. "Pushing this development forward with our commercial partners will create the capabilities we need for future missions," Niki Werkheiser, director of technology maturation in NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD), said in a statement.
Extension of the SBIR project
The new project comes as a continuation of ICON's efforts under a dual-use contract, partly funded by NASA, with the U.S. Airforce named Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR). In its earlier phases, the initiative looked at expanding the possibilities of 3D printing structures to be used in space missions, and "exploring commonalities between Earth-based and off-Earth applications."
The newly awarded Phase III of SBIR will now focus on the evolution of ICON's Project Olympus construction system, which aims to utilize the available resources on the lunar and Martian surfaces as building materials for longer missions.
"In order to explore other worlds, we need innovative new technologies adapted to those environments and our exploration needs," said Werkheiser.
Helping humanity build on 'other worlds'
The project by ICON will broadly come under the purview of NASA’s Mars Planetary Autonomous Construction Technologies (MMPACT) Project at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, Technologies.
A simulated Martian habitat, called Mars Dune Alphs, was recently developed by ICON using advanced 3D printing techniques. The 1,700-square-foot structure is slated to be used to train astronauts for long-duration missions.
Project Artemis is on track
One of Artemis's missions goal is to conduct long-haul crewed missions to the moon after nearly 50 years, starting with landing the first woman on the lunar surface, along with another astronaut in 2024. The long-term goal of the project is to build a sustainable human presence on the moon by 2028.
NASA's Orion spacecraft, which is currently on its first unmanned mission to the moon for the Artemis project, recently made it to a record-breaking distance of 38,000 miles (61,000km). The capsule is expected to return to Earth on December 11.