Austin, Texas-based 3D printing construction company ICON has gotten some pretty significant projects off the ground in recent years, from a 50-home development in Mexico to a 100-home neighborhood in Texas. This week the company won a NASA contract that will help it get an even bigger project much further off the ground-all the way to the moon, in fact. The $57.2 million contract is intended to help ICON develop technologies for building infrastructure on the moon, like landing pads, houses, and roads.
The goal is for ICON to build these lunar structures using local material-that is, moon houses built out of moon dust and moon rocks.
“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,” said ICON co-founder and CEO Jason Ballard in a press release.
Imagine loading rockets with bricks or cement mix for 100 houses and flying them to the moon.
“If you tried to plan a lunar settlement or a moon base and you had to bring everything with you, every time you wanted to build a new thing it’s like another $100M,” Ballard said.
According to Payload, ICON’s regolith-based building process would look something like this: they’d put down an initial layer of moon dust and rocks in the shape of whatever they’re trying to build-say, the walls of a lunar habitat-then use a purpose-built laser to melt the regolith so that it would be permanently stuck together.
The “Printer” ICON is developing for use on the moon is called Olympus, and it looks something like a giant mechanical spider with a crane attached.
It would land on the moon via commercial lander and drive itself to the build site to start processing regolith for construction.
ICON will need to test how Olympus functions with different materials to make sure the tool will be usable on various parts of the moon.
The new NASA contract is actually a continuation of an existing US Air Force contract, partially funded by NASA, under which ICON was tasked with exploring commonalities between Earth-based and off-Earth applications of 3D printing construction.
The contract runs through 2028 and includes a demonstration on the moon’s surface in 2026.