Washington: NASA is working with Texas-based construction technologies company ICON on early research and development of a 3D printing construction system that could support future exploration of the Moon and Mars.
The company announced on Thursday that it has been awarded a US government Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract including funding from NASA to begin research and development of a space-based construction system.
ICON said it will also dedicate a division of the company to focus on space.
“Building humanity’s first home on another world will be the most ambitious construction project in human history and will push science, engineering, technology, and architecture to literal new heights,” Jason Ballard, Co-founder and CEO of ICON, said in a statement.
“NASA’s investment in space-age technologies like this can not only help to advance humanity’s future in space, but also to solve very real, vexing problems we face on Earth.”
As part of the Artemis programme, NASA has a concept for the core surface elements needed to establish a sustained presence on the Moon, which emphasises mobility to allow astronauts to explore more and conduct more science.
The US space agency is considering putting in place a lunar terrain vehicle, habitable mobility platform or lunar RV, and surface habitat on the Moon by the end of the decade.
“To be successful in our future missions, we have to invest in new, cutting-edge technologies today,” said Niki Werkheiser, NASA’s Game Changing Development programme executive.
The programme is part of the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.
“Near-term research and development will help ensure we can expand building capabilities on other worlds when the time comes.”
ICON will work with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, under the Moon to Mars Planetary Autonomous Construction Technologies (MMPACT) project to test lunar soil simulant with various processing and printing technologies.
NASA is partnering with industry, government, and academic institutions under the MMPACT project.
“We want to increase the technology readiness level and test systems to prove it would be feasible to develop a large-scale 3D printer that could build infrastructure on the Moon or Mars,” said Corky Clinton, associate director of Marshall’s Science and Technology Office.
“The team will use what we learn from the tests with the lunar simulant to design, develop, and demonstrate prototype elements for a full-scale additive construction system.”
Based on the progress, NASA could award ICON additional funding and explore the opportunity of an in-situ test on the lunar surface.