NASA eyes 3D printing construction methods for the Moon and Mars

One of the significant challenges of having a permanent human presence on the Moon or Mars is creating habitats and other required construction projects on the distant surface. NASA says the process of building landing pads, habitats, and roads on the moon will likely look very different from common construction sites on Earth. One challenge will be the need for excavation robots to be lightweight while still capable of digging in reduced gravity.

Large-scale construction systems could be autonomous and equipped to work without assistance from astronauts. As part of its Artemis program, NASA has developed the concept for core surface elements needed to establish a sustained presence on the Moon. NASA’s concept emphasizes mobility to allow astronauts to explore more and conduct more science.

NASA is considering putting in place a lunar terrain vehicle, habitable mobility platform, or lunar RV along with a surface habitat by the end of the decade. That’s is also investigating advanced manufacturing processes, which it considers one of the five future industries to support space exploration and improve life on Earth.

The space agency is currently working with ICON, which is a construction technologies company in Austin, Texas, on early research and development of a space-based construction system for the Moon and Mars. ICON has 3D printed communities of homes and structures here on Earth and participates in the NASA 3D Printed Habitat Challenge.

That challenge is to demonstrate construction methods and technologies that could be adapted for applications beyond the planet. Another governmental agency is also interested in technology and its applications on Earth. The Air Force awarded ICON a dual-use small business Innovation research contract to expand 3D printing of livable and workable structures.

Part of that contract will explore the commonalities between Earth-based and off-Earth applications. ICON is also investing in the effort. Enough progress has been made that NASA may award ICON additional funding and explore the possibility of testing on the lunar surface.

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