NASA awards $57.2-million contract to develop construction tech for use on the Moon
By Catrin Jones and Jenny LescohierNovember 30, 2022
NASA has awarded Austin-based construction tech developer ICON a $57.2-million contract to develop technologies that could help build infrastructure such as landing pads, habitats and roads on the lunar surface.
“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,” ICON CEO Jason Ballard said in a statement.
NASA has explicitly stated that one of the goals of its ambitious Artemis lunar program is to establish a long-term human presence on the moon. But as of yet, NASA has established no clear plans on where those astronauts will stay once they get there.
ICON will work with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama under the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) Moon to Mars Planetary Autonomous Construction Technologies (MMPACT) project. NASA will also partner with industry, government and academic institutions under the same project.
NASA says the award is a continuation of ICON’s work under a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) dual-use contract with the U.S. Air Force, partly funded by NASA. The new NASA SBIR Phase III award will support the development of ICON’s Olympus construction system, designed to use local resources on the Moon and Mars as building materials.
ICON, best-known for its 3D-printed homes, has been working on Project Olympus for some time. The company was awarded the initial SBIR grant from the U.S. Air Force in October 2020 for $14.55 million. This latest funding will keep the project alive through 2028 at least.
The company is planning on working with samples of lunar regolith and bringing its hardware and software into space to help it develop construction approaches that can best function in the cold, low-gravity atmosphere of the moon. It’s also developing landing pads and other infrastructure to support sustained lunar exploration.
“In order to explore other worlds, we need innovative new technologies adapted to those environments and our exploration needs,” says Niki Werkheiser, director of technology maturation in NASA’s STMD. “Pushing this development forward with our commercial partners will create the capabilities we need for future missions.”
Last year, Komatsu was selected by the Japanese government to work on producing construction equipment that could operate on the moon, and the OEM is using digital twin technology to recreate site conditions and machines to do so.