ICONs 3D Printed Moonbase Vision Has NASA Funding

ICON has received funding from NASA and launched “PROJECT OLYMPUS” to reach for the stars with an off-world construction system for the Moon. World-renowned architecture firms BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group and SEArch+ have signed on as architectural partners for the audacious project. ICON recently raised a $35 million Series A round for its 3D-printed homes in Austin, Texas.

NASA is working with ICON on early research and development of a space-based construction system that could support future exploration of the Moon and Mars. The U.S. Air Force awarded ICON a dual-use Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract to expand 3D printing of livable and workable structures. Part of the contract, which NASA contributed funding to, will explore commonalities between Earth-based and off-Earth applications. ICON will also invest in the effort.

ICON will work with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, under the Moon to Mars Planetary Autonomous Construction Technologies (MMPACT) project to test lunar soil simulant with various processing and printing technologies.

NASA could eventually give ICON more funding to develop in-situ testing on the lunar surface. In-situ work would involve using lunar regolith to make the cement and as source for more construction materials.

ICON has made many 3D printed homes in Texas. ICON has 3D printed communities of homes and structures on Earth and participated in NASA’s 3D Printed Habitat Challenge, demonstrating a construction method and technologies that may be adaptable for applications beyond our home planet.

The Vulcan is ICON’s 3D printer designed specifically to produce resilient single-story buildings faster, more affordably, and with more design freedom. It has a printing capability to approximately 2,000 square feet. It has an adjustable width (to accommodate different slab sizes) and is transported in our custom trailer with no assembly required.

The Vulcan features intuitive tablet-based controls, remote monitoring and support, onboard LED lighting for printing at night or during low-light conditions, and a custom software suite ensuring set-up, operations, and maintenance are as simple and straightforward as possible.

Written By Brian Wang, Nextbigfuture.cpm

29 thoughts on “ICONs 3D Printed Moonbase Vision Has NASA Funding”

  1. For the radiation /meteor shield I have long been thinking of something like a Quonset hut with regolith piled over it. Also my understanding is that lunar regolith has meteoritic iron in it which is fairly easy to extract with magnetism. That iron could be used to make the 2nd 3rd etc Quonset hut.

  2. Its difficult to see how energy intensive 3D printed habitats could be more commercially viable than large pressurized cylinders or inflatable habitats that could be easily shielded with regolith bags or surrounding regolith walls filled with just 3 meters of regolith.

    Deploying technology to produce regolith bags– out of lunar material– to be stuffed with– dirt cheap– lunar regolith would be much more economically efficient IMO.

    Until that happens, light weight regolith bags would have to be imported from Earth and then filled with lunar regolith for shielding against heavy ions, micrometeorites, extreme temperature fluctuations, solar storms, and excessive levels of cosmic radiation during both solar maximum and solar minimum conditions.

  3. I think you could do most of it by non-contact electrostatic levitation, produce a shaped beam of dirt that was scanned, and have a scanned parabolic mirror with it's focus just before the point of impact, so your levitated dirt turns molten just before impact.

    Lots of energy required, but it's not *processed* energy, just focused sunlight, and focused sunlight is relatively cheap on the Moon.

  4. Sure, you can have tons per square meter of radiation shielding. The internal pressure of the inflatable is tons per square meter, it would support tons per square meter of dirt. The thickness of regolith normal Earth air pressure would support on the Moon is absurd overkill.

    I'd put the dirt in sand bags to prevent shifting, and you'd want at least some of the internal pressure to be taken up by stays for stability reasons.

    Then you can have sandbag interior walls capable of supporting the radiation shield in the event of a depressurization accident.

    It's still likely in excess of 99% native material, and that's assuming you don't bother making the sand bags out of basalt fiber, which you probably would after you got established.

  5. DrPat. Why? Why can't telerobots push regolith on top of a flat-roofed inflatable prior to inflation. If rapid decompression is a concern then ripstops and internal supports could address that. If the concern is that the overlying regolith would be too heavy then you need to do the calcs using 1/2 atm, 1/6 gravity and something like 2-3 meters of regolith. The air pressure will be much greater than the weight.

  6. With the exception of one critical requirement, this plan should work. Take the *guts* of the pump and nozzle stuff to the ISS, outside. Leave the big positioning rig here. Have the beam-making 3D printer being tested make some scaffolding parts upon which to attach wires used to manipulate the noz. Have Musk land on the Moon, well fueled, and scoop some rego into bags, returning them to ISS. Make stuff. Make some sort of spin thingy to mimic Moon grav for further tests, get this stuff going! The critical requirement not met? That this be done on a planet, such as the Moon, or Mars, or Earth. Is the surface of a planet the right place for an expanding technological civilization?

  7. What you can not do with inflatables is have tonnes per square metre of radiation shielding.

    You'll need to combine the inflatable with the local materials anyway.

  8. I think the issue is the chemistry of regolith, though you make a good point (get it?) about the grain shape.

  9. Compared to inflatable habitats, 3D printed habs have several substantial problems:
    – If you ship binder then that’s a lot of mass,
    – If you sinter the structures then this uses a whole lot of energy,
    – If you source binder locally then this is a significant complication,
    – Inflatables can be constructed with materials (e.g. Kevlar) far stronger than what can be produced early on on the Moon,
    – Safety testing 3D-printed structures on the Moon will be considerably harder than safety testing of inflatables on Earth.

    We need to be practical. a 100 tonne Starship payload could deliver an inflatable habitat with a footprint of about 1 acre. It will be quite a while before 3D-printed structures will be as good a solution as inflatables. We need to stop this pursuit of trendy fads and start maturing the systems that will be actually used in a few years.

  10. From my small amount of masonry experience, but with expert advice, the sand "aggregate" part of the cementitious mortar/concrete shoud be sharp, rather than rounded, as most sand in wind or waves gets. Seems like rego would be ideal?

  11. 3D printed metals are getting pretty good. You wouldn't compare it to a nice forged piece, so you wouldn't build a pressure vessel out of it if you had the choice. But if your walls HAD to be metres thick anyway for radiation shielding, you could contain 1 atmosphere over fairly decent wall areas.

    3D printed regolith is something I can't speak about. Even though I've seen lunar regolith thousands of times, I've never got to study its properties.

  12. I recall back on my Dad's farm, he used grain augers to move corn out of bins – and the steel auger tubes would wear thin and rust out in a few years.

    I'll bet corn is relatively soft and rounded compared to lunar regolith. It'll be continuously "sanding" the inside of the extruder.

  13. What is regolith like when it hasnt been hammered by micrometeorites for a few billion years? Like 10 meters under

  14. I recall reading some papers dating back to Apollo. The soil starts out as a fractal "fairy castle" structure on the surface, and then gets denser and more compactified as you go down. By the time you're about 2 meters down, it's essentially vacuum welded rock. Not solid, porous, but you probably couldn't stick a shovel into it.

    It's all mixed sizes, the surface has really been worked over by meteors. The top gets busted up, further down just gets packed down.

    Think road aggregate, on top of conglomerate rock, with a dusting of light dirt, and you'd have it.

  15. How is Regolith as a soil? If one burrows, perhaps as a bore then shell arch, then bore then shell arch, can we rely on some basic cohesiveness in the 'overburden'? Is regolith more like sand or silt or clay – certainly not bedrock or gravel? Tunnels before surface structures, methinks.

  16. 3D printed material tend to be lacking in tensile strength, at least on Earth, unless post processed. OTOH, on the Moon, created in a vacuum, you might just get 100% fill rates and decent tensile properties for a pressure vessel.

    Or you could just build up a radiation/meteor shield, and inflate a large balloon inside, where it would be safe. That's the way I would go.

    Lava tubes are a nice idea for building inside of, but if you've got a specific place you want to build, chances are there won't be a lava tube there.

  17. He didn't! He asked a question to a freshman honors Physics class at Princeton, and they worked on the answer. Only when they were able to solve seemingly show stopping problems with ease did he join in. The right question, in this case, was the hard part. Out of the blue.

  18. Many of these proposed structures have a radial symmetry, built with a rotating arm rather than being *inside* a scanning type machine. So, they are additive mfg, but no longer follow the *layer of ink* idea behind the term 3D Printing, repeated scanning runs at discrete layers. Much less machinery, but not as easy for the calculations. Would do wonders in 0 g.

  19. Check out "The High Frontier" by Gerard K. O'Neill. The best place to build a settlement is not obvious at all, and impossible to imagine w/o reading the book first.

  20. "Seems"

    Predictability, I'm assuming. We don't yet know what the difficulties of building in those tubes will be.

  21. Why none of those proposal renders are ever within a lava tube ?, it seems so obvious that there is the place to start a colony.

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