ICON, a provider of construction technologies and large-scale 3D printing, announced today that it has received a contract awarded under Phase III of NASA's Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program.
The nearly $60 million contract builds upon previous NASA and Department of Defense funding for ICON's Project Olympus to research and develop space-based construction systems to support planned exploration of the Moon and beyond. ICON's Olympus system is intended to be a multi-purpose construction system primarily using local Lunar and Martian resources as building materials to further the efforts of NASA as well as commercial organizations to establish a sustained lunar presence.
"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. We're pleased that our research and engineering to-date has demonstrated that such systems are indeed possible, and we look forward to now making that possibility a reality," said Jason Ballard, ICON co-founder and CEO. "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."
Highlighting the commonalities between advanced construction on earth and in space, ICON will continue to pioneer methods and technologies to solve some of the most vexing construction challenges facing our species from affordable housing to living on other planets. ICON's selection for this award is a vote of confidence in the young, growing company and its mission to revolutionize the construction industry both on Earth and off.
In support of NASA's Artemis program, ICON plans to bring its advanced hardware and software into space via a lunar gravity simulation flight. ICON also intends to work with lunar regolith samples brought back from Apollo missions and various regolith simulants to determine their mechanical behavior in simulated lunar gravity. These findings will yield results that inform future lunar construction approaches for the broader space community, including for critical infrastructure like landing pads, blast shields and roads. This technology will help to establish the critical infrastructure necessary for a sustainable lunar economy including, eventually, longer term lunar habitation.
"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 in NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate. "Pushing this development forward with our commercial partners will create the capabilities we need for future missions."
NASA has signaled that, through the Artemis program, the Moon will be the first off-Earth site for sustainable surface exploration. Building a sustainable presence on the Moon requires more than rockets. For a sustained lunar presence, robust infrastructure will need to be built on the Moon that provide better thermal, radiation, and micrometeorite protection. ICON's development plans are following a "live off the land" approach by prioritizing the use of in-situ / native materials found on the Moon. From landing pads to habitats, these collective efforts are driven by the need to make humanity a spacefaring civilization.
In 2021, ICON was also awarded a subcontract through Jacobs supporting NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) as part of NASA's Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog (CHAPEA) and delivered the world's first and only simulated Mars surface 3D-printed habitat. Designed by architecture firm BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group, Mars Dune Alpha is located at NASA's Johnson Space Center and will aid in long-duration science missions.
Known for its advanced 3D printing technology for homebuilding on Earth, ICON began its journey to transform construction with the delivery of the first, permitted 3D-printed home in the U.S. in 2018. Since then, the team has delivered communities of 3D-printed homes in the U.S. and Mexico and barracks for women and men who serve with the U.S. Army and Air Force, and the Texas Military Department. ICON's proprietary Vulcan technology produces resilient, energy-efficient homes faster than conventional construction methods with less waste and more design freedom.