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NASA grants 3D printing company $57.2 million to build towns on lunar surface

"Pushing this development forward with our commercial partners will create the capabilities we need for future missions."

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Artist's impression of infrastructure built by Icon, such as landing pads, habitats, and roads, on the lunar surface. (ICON via SWNS)

By Dean Murray via SWNS

A company has been chosen to build towns on the lunar surface - using moon dust.

NASA has awarded 3D printing firm ICON $57.2 million to develop construction technologies that could help build infrastructure.

This would include landing pads, habitats, and roads on the lunar surface - not only for NASA but for commercial companies.

The Austin, Texas based company previously showcased their technology by 3D printing a 1,700-square-foot simulated Martian habitat, called Mars Dune Alpha, at Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Artist's impression of infrastructure built by Icon, such as landing pads, habitats, and roads, on the lunar surface. (ICON via SWNS)
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The 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 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.

Niki Werkheiser, director of technology maturation in NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) explains: "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."

In support of NASA’s Artemis program, ICON plans to bring its advanced hardware and software into space via a lunar gravity simulation flight.

They say they intend to work with lunar regolith samples brought back from Apollo missions and various regolith simulants to determine their mechanical behavior in simulated lunar gravity.

ICON said: "These findings will yield results that inform future lunar construction approaches for the broader space community, including for 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."

Jason Ballard, ICON co-founder and CEO, commented: “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.

"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 has become known for its advanced 3D printing technology for homebuilding on Earth, delivering the first, permitted 3D-printed home in the U.S. in 2018.

Since then, the team has delivered communities of 3D-printed homes in the U.S. and Mexico and barracks for the U.S. Army and Air Force, and the Texas Military Department.

ICON say their proprietary Vulcan technology produces resilient, energy-efficient homes faster than conventional construction methods with less waste and more design freedom.

In 2021, ICON 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.

ICON also competed in NASA's 3D Printed Habitat Challenge. The company partnered with the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, and the team won a prize for 3D printing a structure sample that was tested for its ability to hold a seal, for strength, and for durability in temperature extremes.

ICON add: "NASA has signaled that, through the Artemis program, the Moon will be the first off-Earth site for sustainable surface exploration.

"Building a sustainable presence on the Moon requires more than rockets. For a sustained lunar presence, robust infrastructure will need to be built on the Moon that provide 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.

"From landing pads to habitats, these collective efforts are driven by the need to make humanity a spacefaring civilization."

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