AM for SpaceConstruction 3D Printing

ICON awarded $57.2 million from NASA for in-space construction

“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.”

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ICON, a leader in advanced construction technologies and large-scale 3D printing, received a contract awarded under Phase III of NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. The nearly $60 million contract builds upon previous NASA and Department of Defense funding for ICON’s Project Olympus to research and develop space-based construction systems to support the planned exploration of the Moon and beyond. ICON’s ‘Olympus’ system is intended to be a multi-purpose construction system primarily using local Lunar and Martian resources as building materials to further the efforts of NASA, as well as commercial organizations, to establish a sustained lunar presence.

“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,” said Jason Ballard, Co-Founder, and CEO of ICON. “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.”

ICON awarded $57.2 million from NASA for in-space construction. Project Olympus focusses on the development of space-based construction.
ICON’s 3D printed home

Highlighting the commonalities between advanced construction on earth and in space, ICON will continue to pioneer methods and technologies to solve some of the most vexing construction challenges facing our species – from affordable housing to living on other planets. ICON’s selection for this award is a vote of confidence in the young, growing company and its mission to revolutionize the construction industry both on Earth and off.

In support of NASA’s Artemis program, ICON plans to bring its advanced hardware and software into space via a lunar gravity simulation flight. ICON also intends to work with lunar regolith samples brought back from Apollo missions and various regolith simulants to determine their mechanical behavior in simulated lunar gravity. These findings will yield results that inform future lunar construction approaches for the broader space community, including critical infrastructure like landing pads, blast shields, and roads. This technology will help to establish the critical infrastructure necessary for a sustainable lunar economy including, eventually, longer-term lunar habitation.

ICON awarded $57.2 million from NASA for in-space construction. Project Olympus focusses on the development of space-based construction.
Inside ICON’s 3D printed home

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

NASA has signalled that, through the Artemis program, the Moon will be the first off-Earth site for sustainable surface exploration. For a sustained lunar presence, we need a robust infrastructure that provides better thermal, radiation, and micrometeorite protection. ICON’s development plans are following a ‘live off the land’ approach by prioritizing the use of in-situ/native materials found on the Moon.

In 2021, ICON was also awarded a subcontract through Jacobs – supporting 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. Designed by architecture firm BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group, Mars Dune Alpha is located at NASA’s Johnson Space Center and will aid in long-duration science missions.

Known for its advanced 3D printing technology for homebuilding on Earth, ICON began its journey to transform construction with the delivery of the first permitted 3D printed home in the US in 2018. Since then, the team has delivered communities of 3D printed homes in the US and Mexico, and barracks for women and men who serve with the US Army and Air Force, and the Texas Military Department.

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Edward Wakefield

Edward is a freelance writer and additive manufacturing enthusiast looking to make AM more accessible and understandable.

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