NASA awards $57.2 million to Texas company to 3D print lunar base • The Register

NASA has awarded ICON, a Texas 3D printing startup, a $57.2 million contract to build “space-based engineering systems” on the lunar surface.

Future astronauts will one day live and work on the moon, and NASA plans to build infrastructure that will allow crews to survive and feed themselves sustainably. They must construct their own tools from lunar resources so they can grow their own food, communicate with Earth, and venture deeper into the solar system.

Enter Project Olympus. ICON was commissioned to build a machine capable of 3D printing large-scale structures such as landing pads, protective shields and roads on the moon. The nearly $60 million, six-year contract will support the company’s efforts to research and develop how to build the Olympus construction system and use materials found on the moon.

“To change the space exploration paradigm from ‘there and back’ to ‘stay there’, we need robust, resilient and comprehensively capable systems that can utilize the local resources of the Moon and other planetary bodies,” Jason Ballard, Co-Founder and CEO from ICON, said in a statement. “The ultimate result of this assignment will be humanity’s first construction on another world, and that will be a very special achievement.”

ICON has already built Vulcan, a home-size 3D printer capable of printing components used to build homes in the US and Mexico. However, Olympus will be a much more difficult system to build. Not only must ICON mix a new malleable and strong lunar regolith 3D printing material, its system must also be able to operate in the lunar gravity.

“To explore other worlds, we need innovative new technologies adapted to those environments and our exploration needs,” said Niki Werkheiser, director of technology maturity at NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. “Propelling this development with our commercial partners will create the capabilities we need for future missions.”

For items printed by Olympus to be durable, they must withstand extreme temperatures and function, as well as be protected from radiation and collisions with micrometeorites. ICON plans to test its hardware and software via a lunar gravity simulation flight and will experiment with lunar regolith samples brought back from previous Apollo missions to study their mechanical properties.

One of his creations for NASA is put to the test in front of Olympus. ICON 3D-printed Mars Dune Alpha, a 1,700-square-foot simulated Martian habitat to be used during NASA’s Crew Health and Performance Analog (CHAPEA) mission next year. Astronauts will live in Mars Dune Alpha and perform simulated spacewalks that mimic working conditions on Mars while staying on Earth at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. ® NASA awards $57.2 million to Texas company to 3D print lunar base • The Register

Rick Schindler

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