NASA is ready to take urban development to the final frontier—embarking on the first foray into extraterrestrial construction.
The project involves an otherworldly team, including U.S. construction tech firm Icon, U.S. startup SEArch+ (short for Space Exploration Architecture) and Danish hotshots Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). The goal is to develop a space-based construction system for creating small cities—complete with landing pads, habitats and roads—on the moon and eventually Mars. And it would all be fit for long-term human habitation by the end of the decade.
Calling it “the most ambitious construction project in human history,” Icon CEO Jason Ballard said in a statement that it will push science, engineering, technology and architecture to literal new heights.
The giant leap will require better thermal, radiation and space dust protection than metal or inflatable habitats offer. And the team has a plan for that: It’s looking to make extensive use of lunar resources, including locally sourced water for life support and rocket fuel, as well as moon dirt for building materials. To ensure structures can withstand conditions, the team will test simulated lunar soil with various processing and printing technologies with help from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, USA.
“We want to increase the technology readiness level and test systems to prove it would be feasible to develop a large-scale 3D printer that could build infrastructure on the moon or Mars,” said Corky Clinton, associate director, science and technology office at the center. “The team will use what we learn from the tests with the lunar simulant to design, develop and demonstrate prototype elements for a full-scale additive construction system.”
All that pioneering of new frontiers “materially, technologically and environmentally” may also help advance construction on the good old home planet, too, Bjarke Ingels, BIG founder and creative director, said in a statement. “The answers to our challenges on Earth very well might be found on the moon.”
The Project Olympus team isn’t the only one reaching for the stars. U.S. architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill partnered with the European Space Agency and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for their own take on a moon village unveiled last year.