While NASA’s Artemis exploration program goes on, the infrastructure on the moon needs to be fixed up. With this in mind, NASA has given the advanced construction technology firm ICON, most famous for their 3-D printed houses, a $57.2 million contract to research and develop building technologies for constructing landing pads, housing, and roadways on the moon. The deal will last until 2028.
The contract that was awarded on Tuesday is part of NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research program’s Phase III. It’s an extension of an earlier SBIR dual-use agreement with the Air Force that NASA helped to partly finance.
With the grant, ICON will be able to keep doing research and development on building technologies that can be used in space to help Project Olympus in the future.
Niki Werkheiser, NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate’s director of technology maturation, said that in order to visit other planets, we need cutting-edge new technologies that are tailored to their conditions and our exploration objectives. The capabilities we require for our next missions will be developed by advancing this development with our business partners.
The new prize will help ICON’s Olympus building system, which, according to a press release, is meant to use building materials made from materials found on the moon and Mars.
To launch its technologies into orbit, ICON will employ a lunar gravity simulation mission. In order to better understand how lunar regolith—a layer of debris covering the moon’s surface—would behave under simulated lunar gravity, the business will also use samples of lunar regolith.
ICON said that the technology “will help construct the vital infrastructure required for a successful lunar economy, including, at some point, longer-term lunar colonization.”
Jason Ballard, co-founder, and CEO of ICON has stated, “We’re going to require strong, durable, and generally competent technologies that can harness the local resources of the moon and other planetary bodies to alter the space exploration paradigm from “there and back again” to “there to stay.”
The first building constructed by humans on an alien planet will be the final product of this contract, which will be a very noteworthy accomplishment.
The prize will increase ICON’s involvement with NASA and its commercial endeavors. For the NASA Crew Health and Performance Analog mission in 2023, ICON 3-D printed a 1,700-square-foot Mars home simulation called the Mars Dune Alpha.
NASA is trying to develop a permanent presence on the moon as well as a sustained presence in space as it plans to send people to the moon again and ultimately Mars. Building infrastructure on the moon is thus a crucial step towards achieving that aim.