ICON, developer of construction technologies such as robotics, software, and building materials, was awarded a government Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract including funding from NASA to begin research and development of a space-based construction system that could support future exploration of the Moon. ICON will also dedicate a division of the company to focus on space.
“Building humanity’s first home on another world will be the most ambitious construction project in human history and will push science, engineering, technology, and architecture to literally new heights,” said Jason Ballard, ICON co-founder. “NASA’s investment in space-age technologies like this can not only help advance humanity’s future in space, but also solve very real, vexing problems we face on Earth. We are honoured to begin our research and development on ICON’s ‘Project Olympus’ and the ‘Olympus Construction System.’”
NASA has signaled that, through the Artemis program, the Moon will be the first off-Earth site for sustainable surface exploration. Building a sustainable presence on the Moon requires more than rockets. For a permanent lunar presence to exist, robust structures will need to be built on the Moon that provide better thermal, radiation, and micrometeorite protection than metal or inflatable habitats can provide. From landing pads to habitats, these collective efforts are driven by the need to make humanity a spacefaring civilization.
Known for its advanced 3D printing technology for homebuilding on Earth, ICON has been awarded a SBIR Strategic Fund Increase (STRATFI) contract through the AFVentures managed ‘Open Topic’ process to advance the development of its 3D printing technology, advanced materials, and software. The SBIR is a competitive program that encourages domestic small businesses to engage in federal research/research and development (R/R&D) that has the potential for commercialization. Through the support from NASA under the Air Force SBIR, ICON will continue to mature off-Earth applications for potential use for sustainable lunar missions and develop technology with shared agency benefits for Earth and space.
In partnership with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, ICON will test lunar soil simulant with various processing and printing technologies. The tests will help design, develop, and demonstrate prototype elements for a possible future full-scale additive construction system that could print infrastructure on the Moon. The new partnership builds on technology ICON demonstrated during NASA’s 3D Printed Habitat Challenge in 2018.
ICON has engaged Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) and Space Exploration Architecture (SEArch+) as partners for the project. SEArch+ has over a decade-long association with NASA’s Johnson Space Center Human Habitability Division, Langley Research Center, Ames Research Center, and leading aerospace corporations, and BIG has worked on multiple concepts for the Moon and Mars in the past several years.
“To explain the power of architecture, ‘formgiving’ 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,” said Bjarke Ingels, BIG founder. “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.”
“We are thrilled to support Project Olympus and come one step closer towards becoming an interplanetary species,” said SEArch+ co-founders. “3D printing with indigenous materials is a sustainable and versatile solution to off-world construction that will prove to be vital to our future here on Earth and in outer space.”
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