NASA Awards $57 Million Contract to Figure Out Building Roads and Homes on the Moon
“Humanity's first construction on another world.”
With the recent launch of Artemis I and a set of new mini-satellites, NASA is actively preparing to return to the moon, and not just briefly. The space agency hopes to build bases on the lunar surface where astronauts can live and work for extended periods of time. But that's going to take some serious technological development—an entire infrastructure has to be built.
And this week, NASA hired a company to do just that. The agency awarded ICON, a technology firm known for 3D printed homes, a $57.2 million contract to develop technology that can create an infrastructure on the moon. Read on to find out what that will entail.
The Austin, Texas-based company will be tasked with creating the means to build an infrastructure on the moon, including landing pads, habitats, and roads. The contract runs through 2028. "In order to explore other worlds, we need innovative new technologies adapted to those environments and our exploration needs," said Niki Werkheiser, director of technology maturation at NASA. "Pushing this development forward with our commercial partners will create the capabilities we need for future missions."
The company will use its Olympus construction system, "which is designed to use local resources on the moon and Mars as building materials," according to the announcement. Yep, the sustainability drive isn't just for Earth. ICON says it will use samples of debris covering the moon's surface to inform construction approaches. ICON noted that the technology "will help establish the critical infrastructure necessary for a sustainable lunar economy including, eventually, longer term lunar habitation."
"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 Jason Ballard, co-founder and CEO of ICON. "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."
The company has already been working with NASA. ICON 3-D printed a 1,700-square-foot Martian habitat simulation—the Mars Dune Alpha—that will be used to help astronauts prepare for a manned mission to Mars in 2023. ICON has also created communities of 3D-printed homes in the U.S. and Mexico and barracks for members of the Army and Air Force.
NASA has committed to having humans living and working on the moon within the next decade. "Certainly, in this decade, we are going to have people living for durations, depending on how long we will be on the surface. They will have habitats, they will have rovers on the ground," said Howard Hu, the head of the Orion lunar spacecraft program, last month. He added: "We are going to be sending people down to the surface, and they are going to be living on that surface and doing science."