The last time a person landed on the moon was in 1972. Now, the moon is back on NASA’s space agenda. This time the agency is not the only one visiting – it plans to stay.
BIG’s concept for Project Olympus includes donut-shaped buildings that can be built entirely with the icon’s 3D printer. debt: Bjarke Ingels Group / ICON
The initiative was named Project Olympus after the largest known volcano in the solar system – appropriately indicating the mountain-scale challenge facing the team. But Ballard is not the only one shooting for the moon. By designing a lunar habitat, he hopes to make construction on Earth cleaner, faster and cheaper.
Icon uses 3D printing technology to build community homes in Mexico and Texas. Using a concrete-based compound called lava concrete, its Vulcan printer can print at 500 square feet in 24 hours.
But the moon is a “completely different world,” Ballard says. From Earth, it looks like a quiet, smooth, silver orb, but it is subject to high levels of radiation, violent earthquakes, extreme temperature changes, and frequent strikes of micrometers inactivating in its thin atmosphere, he says.
And turning moon dust into building materials is another big challenge. The team is testing small samples of moon dust in a laboratory – enabling how to change its position with microwaves, lasers and infrared light, while Ballard says there are “few combinations”.
The research area in the icon’s proposed lunar structure will be illuminated by smart lights that simulate day and night on Earth, helping astronauts maintain a normal sleep-wake cycle. debt: Bjarke Ingels Group / ICON
Icon has partnered with two architectural firms, PJ Ingels Group (PIG) and Space Research Framework (CR + +) to explore the possibilities of 3D printing technology.
Ballard says the team explored habitats in extreme environments, including the McMurdo station and the International Space Station in Antarctica, and developed a variety of lunar design ideas using their findings.
BIG founder George Ingels says architects had to consider how to create an environment that was safe and comfortable to live in.
SEArch +’s proposal has a tall, multi-layered structure that protects a hub built into the earth with protective 3D-printed petals, while BIG designs a circular structure that can be printed in full moon.
The design of the BIG includes a water membrane that encloses the walls of the bedroom – “a good insulator against radiation,” says Ingels – which provides extra protection when astronauts sleep.
Radiation means windows should be kept to a minimum, so Ingles carefully selected only one location in the building – it would always face the earth.
Co-founder Rebecca Piles-Friedman says SEArch + has envisioned a platform that would “allow astronauts to come and go from the surface more often” with landing pads, roads, sheds and habitats. debt: SEArch + / ICON
Ingels says the “double shell” system, which is filled with loose lunar dust, also provides extra protection from outdoor ladder work, radiation and meteorites.
In addition to living and working places for astronauts, the lunar platform should connect landing pads, roads and storage sheds. Ingels says that human existence in space has so far “dominated engineering.” He hopes that as many industries work together, the moon will become the “permanent aspiration” in the design and engineering marvel of the first permanent system.
Gateway to the galaxy
ICON’s 3D-printer, Vulcan, paints the exterior of a one-story building at a time. It can print up to 500 square feet in 24 hours. debt: Icon
However, its goal is a permanent base from which to explore the moon in more depth and test technology for human survival in space. Skelly says NASA wants to build facilities to house four astronauts for up to a month. This is an essential first step for Mars.
Skelly says it has not yet been decided whether to build a lunar habitat using 3D printing, but that “NASA could provide additional funding for the icon” and give the company the opportunity to test its technology on the lunar surface.
Using moon technology on Earth
Ballard is also optimistic about the earthbound potential of the technology. He hopes Project Olympus’ findings will help solve the global housing crisis.
In order to create a community housing community for people who lost their homes in natural disasters, Icon had its first 3D construction project with a non-profit new story in Mexico. debt: Joshua Perez / Icon
“It’s a funny thought, but it could turn out that the answers to our problems on Earth are on the Moon or Mars,” he says.