ICON, the company behind the world’s largest 3D-printed community, has landed a five-year $57m (£48m) contract from NASA to 3D-print infrastructure on the Moon and on Mars.
The contract will spur the development of ICON’s Olympus, a self-driving 3D-printer that uses existing lunar and martian materials to build landing pads, roads and shelters.
The new structures will test the limits of existing metal and inflatable architecture that will be required to protect inhabitants from a large range of temperatures, radiation and micro-meteorites, said ICON.
The initiative falls under NASA’s broader Artemis programme which aims to return astronauts to the Moon by 2024, preparing the way for human missions to Mars.
Jason Ballard, ICON co-founder and CEO, said: “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.”
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ICON has already worked with NASA for two years using large-scale 3D-printing technology to build prototypes for these bases.
The Texas-based 3D construction printing firm has 3D-printed a 1,700 sq.ft Mars habitat called Mars Dune Alpha, which NASA plans to use for simulated missions next year.
Niki Werkheiser, a director at NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, commented: “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.”
NASA could use ICON’s technology on the moon as early as 2026.
Image: ICON’s vision for Olympus, a self-driving 3D-printing lunar construction system (credit: ICON)
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