Saturday, July 13, 2024

Space-based Construction Technology for Moon exploration

SBIR Phase III Contract Furthers ICON’s Space-based Construction Technology Developments & Will Target Humanity’s First-ever Construction on Another Planetary Body

ICON, a pioneer in advanced construction technologies and large-scale 3D printing, announced that it has been awarded a contract under NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program’s Phase III. This $57.5 million NASA grant will be used to develop space-based construction technology for Moon exploration. It also aims to be humanity’s first construction on another planet.

The nearly $60 million contract expands on previous NASA and Department of Defense funding for ICON’s Project Olympus, which aims to research and develop space-based construction systems to support planned Moon and beyond exploration.

ICON’s Olympus system is intended to be a multi-purpose construction system that primarily uses local Lunar and Martian resources as building materials to aid NASA and commercial organisations in their efforts to establish a sustained lunar presence.

3D Printing on the Moon and Beyond for NASA/Source: ICON/YouTube

Space-based Construction Technology for Moon exploration

According to Jason Ballard, ICON Co-founder and CEO, “To change the space exploration paradigm from ‘there and back again’ to ‘there to stay,’ we’re going to need robust, resilient, and broadly capable systems that can use the local resources of the Moon and other planetary bodies. We’re pleased that our research and engineering to-date has demonstrated that such systems are indeed possible, and we look forward to now making that possibility a reality.

ICON will continue to pioneer methods and technologies to solve some of our species’ most difficult construction challenges, from affordable housing to living on other planets, by emphasising the similarities between advanced construction on Earth and in space. The selection of ICON for this award represents a vote of confidence in the young, growing company and its mission to revolutionise the construction industry both on and off the planet

“The final deliverable of this contract will be humanity’s first construction on another world, and that is going to be a pretty special achievement.”– Jason Ballard, Co-founder and CEO, ICON

ICON’s Advanced Hardware and Software into Space

ICON Space based Construction Technology Concept rendering 1
Concept rendering/Source: ICON

ICON intends to launch its advanced hardware and software into space in support of NASA’s Artemis programme via a lunar gravity simulation flight. ICON also plans to investigate the mechanical behaviour of lunar regolith samples returned from Apollo missions and various regolith simulants in simulated lunar gravity. These findings will inform future lunar construction approaches for the broader space community, including critical infrastructure such as landing pads, blast shields, and roads. This space-based construction technology will aid in the establishment of critical infrastructure required for a sustainable lunar economy, including long-term lunar habitation.

“In order to explore other worlds, we need innovative new technologies adapted to those environments and our exploration needs. Pushing this development forward with our commercial partners will create the capabilities we need for future missions.”– Niki Werkheiser, Director of Technology Maturation, NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate

ICON Space based Construction Technology Concept rendering 3
Concept rendering/Source: ICON

The Moon will be the first off-Earth site for sustainable surface exploration, according to NASA’s Artemis programme. More than rockets are required to establish a long-term presence on the Moon. A robust infrastructure on the Moon that provides better thermal, radiation, and micrometeorite protection will be required for a long-term lunar presence. ICON’s development plans take a “live off the land” approach, with a focus on using in-situ / native materials found on the Moon. From landing pads to habitats, these collaborative efforts are motivated by the desire to transform humanity into a spacefaring civilization.

ICON was also awarded a subcontract by Jacobs in 2021 to support NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) as part of NASA’s Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog (CHAPEA), and delivered the world’s first and only simulated Mars surface 3D-printed habitat. Mars Dune Alpha, designed by BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group, is located at NASA’s Johnson Space Center and will aid in long-duration science missions.

ICON, known for its advanced 3D printing technology for homebuilding, began its journey to transform construction in 2018 with the delivery of the first permitted 3D-printed home in the United States. Since then, the team has delivered communities of 3D-printed homes in the United States and Mexico, as well as barracks for women and men serving in the United States Army, Air Force, and Texas Military Department. ICON’s proprietary Vulcan technology creates more resilient, energy-efficient homes in less time than traditional construction methods, with less waste and more design freedom.

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