NASA has signed a $14 million contract with a US-based construction technologies startup company, ICON. The contract has been signed to develop a 3D-printing-based construction system for the moon called “Project Olympus.”
NASA 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge started in 2015. The challenge to teams around the US was to render, prove the structural identity, and construct a model of a habitat that could one-day shelter humans on the surface of the Moon or even Mars.
ICON announced earlier this month that it has been awarded the government’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract. It also announced its award included funding from NASA to begin research and development of the space-based construction system that could support future exploration of the Moon.
The Co-founder and CEO of ICON said in a statement, “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 literal new heights.”
ICON also uploaded a youtube video on its official channel, giving the public a preview of what could be possible.
NASA has oftentimes signaled that the Moon will be the first off-Earth site for sustainable surface exploration. Building a sustainable presence of humanity on the Moon requires more than just rockets. For a permanent sustainable presence, strong structures will be needed on the Moon. These structures will be able to provide better thermal, radiation and micrometeorite protection than metal or inflatable habitats can provide.
The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Contract
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 commercialisation.
With the support of NASA under the Air Force SBIR, ICON will continue to grow off-Earth applications for possible use for lasting lunar missions. It will also develop technology with shared benefits for Earth and space.
For reaching the goal, ICON has engaged two award-winning firms as partners for Project Olympus. The Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) and Space Exploration Architecture (SEArch+).
The Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG)
The group is consists of architects, designers, urbanists, landscape professionals, interior and product designers, researchers and inventors from Copenhagen, New York, London and Barcelona.
The BIG is currently involved in a large number of projects throughout Europe, North America, Asia and the Middle East. BIG’s architecture is famous for emerging with a careful analysis of how contemporary life constantly evolves and changes. The company claims that by hitting the existing and active overlap between practical and utopia, architects once again find the freedom to change the surface of our planet, to better fit contemporary life forms.
The Space Exploration Architecture (SEArch+)
SEArch+ is a startup that develops human supporting design concepts for space exploration. Its mission is to conceive, investigate, and develop innovative ‘human-centred’ designs enabling human beings not only to live but to thrive in space environments.
SEArch+ has participated and won first place in NASA’s Centennial Challenge for a 3D-Printed Habitat. The company is also a collaborator with NASA Langely Research Center on the Mars Ice Home Project, the BIG Ideas Challenge and has consulted in design and research studies with United Technology Aerospace Systems, NASA Johnson Space Center’s Human Habitability Division and NASA Ames Human Systems Integration.
ICON is known for developing advanced construction technologies that advance humanity. With the use of proprietary 3D printing robotics, software and advanced materials, ICON is shifting the paradigm of home building on Earth and beyond.
3D Printed Habitat
To set a permanent foot on the Moon, future explorers need proper protection from harsh conditions. These conditions include extreme temperatures, radiation, and micrometeorite showers.
ICON is working on investigating the 3D Printing technologies to allow the construction of such a shelter. The company is currently studying and will build on the existing experience with the Earthly versions of the same technology. In 2018, ICON became the first company to deliver the first, permitted 3D-printed home in the US.
3D printing is also known as additive manufacturing. It is a process of making three dimensional solid objects from a digital file.
In an additive process an object is created by laying down successive layers of material until the object is created. Each of these layers can be seen as a thinly sliced cross-section of the object.
It enables the production of complex shapes using less material than traditional manufacturing methods.
The three CEOs responsible for making humanity’s sustainable residency on the Moon possible, have their own way of explaining it.
Co-Founder and CEO of ICON, Jason Ballard states, “Building humanity’s first home on another world will be one of the most ambitious construction projects in recorded human history and push technology, engineering, science and architecture to literal new heights.”
The Founder and Creative Director of BIG stated that the process could be “The answers to our challenges on Earth very well might be found on the Moon.”
The Co-Founders of SEArch+ said, “3D printing with materials found on the Moon is a sustainable and versatile solution to off-world construction.”
The idea of living in space has been enchanting humans since a long time now. The idea going forward with an actual potential is not only fascinating but another legendary accomplishment in the terms of technology. A real check to how far we all have come.