Dezeen Magazine

An astronaut and a construction machine on the moon

NASA funds ICON to develop lunar 3D-printing construction technology

Space agency NASA has awarded construction company ICON a $57 million contract to develop 3D-printing technology to build roads, launchpads and homes on the moon's surface.

The contract, worth $57.2 million (£47 million), was awarded to develop the 3D-printing construction technology that will be needed to build elements necessary for living on the moon, such as roads, launchpads and homes as part of a lunar base.

Above: NASA has chosen ICON for phase III of Project Olympus. Top image: A 3D printer will be placed on the moon. Courtesy of ICON/BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group

"In order to explore other worlds, we need innovative new technologies adapted to those environments and our exploration needs," director of technology maturation at NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate Niki Werkheiser said.

"Pushing this development forward with our commercial partners will create the capabilities we need for future missions."

A rendering of a 3D-printer on the moon
The construction technology will create roads and habitats on the moon

Austin-based ICON is aiming to develop a large 3D printer that could be transported to the moon, where it will use lunar materials to construct the lunar base.

"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," ICON explained.

A rendering of buildings on the moon
Materials on the lunar surface will be used for the construction

Project Olympus falls under NASA's Artemis program, which plans for long-term human exploration of the moon, and the infrastructure is designed to allow for human habitation on the moon in the future.

"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," said ICON co-founder Jason Ballard.

"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," Ballard continued.

"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."

A 3D printer on the moon
The project falls under NASA's Artemis space program

The contract, which was awarded under the third phase of NASA's Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, builds upon the funding that ICON and architecture studio BIG were awarded in 2020 to develop a way to create 3D-printed buildings for living on the moon.

ICON is currently also collaborating with NASA and BIG on Mars Dune Alpha, a 3D-printed structure designed to simulate living on Mars.

A number of other architecture studios are also exploring building on the moon. Architecture studio SOM and the European Space Agency designed a settlement for living on the Moon that is made up of inflatable modules and aptly named Moon Village.

Meanwhile, British architecture studio Foster + Partners unveiled a proposal to 3D print buildings on the lunar body.

Renderings courtesy of ICON unless otherwise stated.