BIG ICON pioneers 3D architecture and moon living

by Ofentse Sefolo
BIG ICON pioneers 3D architecture and moon living

A pioneering new project aimed at developing a way to create 3D-printed infrastructure for living on the moon, using materials found on its surface, would have sounded like something from a sci-fi movie not too long ago. However, now it is happening.

“Building humanity’s first home in another world will be one of the most ambitious construction projects in recorded human history and will push technology, engineering, science and architecture to literal new heights.” – Jason Ballard, ICON co-founder and chief executive officer

The latest news combining the yet-to-be-fulfilled new space frontier with additive construction is called Project Olympus, a NASA-funded initiative aimed at developing a method for robotic building on the moon. Project Olympus is being driven by ICON, a firm that has been steadily making a name for itself in construction 3D printing.

Adding to its $44 million raised from investors so far, is the recent Small Business Innovation Research government contract from NASA to 3D print habitats on the moon, using local materials and creating no waste.

With its partners, architecture firm BIG and new space start-up SEArch+ (Space Exploration Architecture), ICON will be working with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Centre in Huntsville, Alabama, to explore additive construction of a simulant of moon soil.

“With ICON we are pioneering new frontiers – both materially, technologically and environmentally,” said BIG’s founder, Bjarke Ingels.

“To explain the power of architecture, ‘formgiving’ is the Danish word for design, which literally means to give form to something which has not yet been given form. This becomes fundamentally clear when we venture beyond earth and begin to imagine how we are going to build and live in entirely new worlds,” explains Ingels.

Working with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Centre in Huntsville, Alabama, the team will use a simulant of moon soil to investigate a 3D-printable construction.

Robotic construction
While other projects have suggested inflatables or metal structures, Project Olympus is intended to create a robust construction suited to the environment on the moon. The team has been exploring various building forms ideal for containing atmospheric pressure and optimised for protection from cosmic and solar radiation.

Ground-breaking robotic construction that uses only in-situ resources with zero waste left behind will be used to construct the extra-terrestrial buildings.

“Using 3D-printing and local materials, it will also be more sustainable and reduce waste. The habitat will be designed with the inherent redundancy required for extra-terrestrial buildings, while also using ground-breaking robotic construction that uses only in-situ resources with zero waste left behind,” the team explains.

“With the technologies and efficiency parameters developed for the construction of extra-terrestrial buildings, Project Olympus will also help us to build sustainably on planet earth, as we strive to reduce the carbon footprint of the built environment,” noted BIG partner, Martin Voelkle.

Off-earth exploration getting closer
ICON received the government grant for off-earth exploration after working to develop more sustainable construction using 3D-printing robotics, software and advanced materials. In 2018, it completed its first 3D-printed home in the United States of America (USA) and has recently started construction on “the world’s first 3D-printed community of homes” in Mexico.

They then selected BIG, which has previously designed a simulation of Mars called Mars Science City in Dubai, and SEArch+ to partner with them on Project Olympus.

The project forms part of NASA’s commitment to exploring life on the moon, which includes the Artemis programme to place the first woman and next man on the astronomical body in 2024. Earlier this year, NASA named Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin, Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Alabama-based Dynetics as the three teams to develop vehicles for the planned landing.

“The answers to our challenges on earth very well might be found on the moon,” concluded Ingels.

We will watch this space with keen interest!

For more information, visit www.iconbuild.com.

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