A group of U.S. and European design and construction firms are aiming for the moon — literally — with their newest 3D-printing project.
Icon, an Austin, Texas-based developer of construction technologies, received funding to research and develop a space-based construction system that could support future exploration of the moon. It has engaged two architecture firms as partners for the project: Denmark-based BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group and New York City-based SEArch+.
The conditions on the moon are more intense and dangerous than even the most extreme construction projects on earth. The challenges to building there include 500-degree temperature variations, 1,000-foot-deep craters, extreme radiation and electrically charged superabrasive dust, said Icon CEO Jason Ballard in a press statement. These challenges are in addition to the fact that the moon is 250,000 miles away from Earth.
Designing lunar houses and infrastructure
The project is funded by a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant including funding from NASA, which aims to send a woman and a man to the Moon by 2024 as part of its Artemis program, using technologies to explore more of the lunar surface than ever before.
Through the SBIR contract, the team will research and design construction methods on the moon using 3D-printing technology to develop lunar housing and other infrastructure such as launching pads "that could support a sustainable long term presence on the moon,” said Ballard.
For a permanent lunar settlement to exist, robust structures will need to be built that provide thermal, radiation and micrometeorite protection, according to Ballard.
In partnership with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, Icon will test lunar soil simulant with various processing and printing technologies. The tests will help design, develop and demonstrate prototype elements for a possible future full-scale additive construction system that could print infrastructure on the moon. The new partnership builds on technology Icon demonstrated during NASA’s 3D Printed Habitat Challenge in 2018.
In addition to Icon's work, dozens of other U.S. suppliers and small businesses have made contributions to the Artemis program to establish a sustainable human presence on the moon. For detailed information about the project's partners visit the Artemis partners map.