The prize money will be used to develop the technology necessary to construct facilities on the moon’s surface, including as highways and landing areas.
NASA needs new technologies to upgrade the moon’s infrastructure while it conducts exploration under Artemis.
In an effort to fill this need, NASA has contracted with ICON, a leading provider of advanced construction technology best known for its 3-D printed homes, for a $57.2 million project to create construction methods for the construction of infrastructure, such as landing pads, habitats, and roads, on the moon. The agreement is valid through 2028.
The NASA Small Business Innovation Research program’s Phase III includes the contract that was signed on Tuesday. It is an extension of an earlier SBIR dual-use contract with the Air Force that was partially financed by NASA. With the money from the grant, ICON will be able to continue its Project Olympus research and development of space-based building solutions.
Niki Werkheiser, director of technology maturation at NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, stated that in order to explore other planets, we need cutting-edge new technologies that are tailored to their conditions and our exploration demands. With the help of our commercial partners, we can further this development and build the capabilities we’ll need for next missions.
According to the statement, the new prize will support ICON’s Olympus construction system, “which is designed to exploit local resources on the moon and Mars as building materials.”
ICON will launch their technology via a lunar gravity simulation flight. In order to better understand how lunar regolith—a layer of debris covering the moon’s surface—behaves in a simulated lunar gravity, the business will also use samples of lunar regolith. The technology, according to ICON, “will assist construct the fundamental infrastructure necessary for a sustained lunar economy and, eventually, longer-term lunar colonization.”
In order to shift the focus of space travel from “there and back again” to “there to stay,” said Jason Ballard, co-founder and CEO of ICON, “we’re going to require strong, durable and globally competent systems that can utilise the local resources of the moon and other planetary bodies.” The first building constructed by humans on an alien planet will be the contract’s final deliverable, which will be a noteworthy accomplishment.
Under the Moon to Mars Planetary Autonomous Construction Technologies initiative of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, ICON will collaborate with the Marshall Space Flight Center.
ICON’s commercial endeavors and its engagement with NASA will both grow as a result of the funding. For the NASA Crew Health and Performance Analog mission in 2023, ICON 3-D printed the Mars Dune Alpha, a 1,700 square foot recreation of a Martian dwelling.
As part of its plans to send men to the moon again and eventually to Mars, NASA is also considering how to create a permanent presence in space and on the moon. Therefore, creating infrastructure on the moon is a crucial step towards achieving that aim.