ICON Wins NASA Contract for Lunar 3D Printing

Within a decade, a startup known for building cheap 3D-printed houses on Earth is hoping to bring the materials cost for building structures on the lunar surface down to zero. Austin-based ICON said this morning that it won a $57.2M Phase III SBIR award from NASA that will bring its 3D printing technology all the way to the Moon.

From Earth…Jason Ballard, cofounder and CEO of ICON, started the company in 2017 with the goal of solving the global housing crisis.

“If we’re going to be the advanced civilization we say we are and think we are, we ought to be better at sheltering ourselves,” Ballard told Payload. “We must have ways of sheltering ourselves that don’t ruin this planet in the first place.”

ICON’s first act was to construct neighborhoods of 3D-printed homes across several US states and Mexico. ICON builds its homes with a proprietary material somewhere between a mortar and a concrete, and they’re printed in place using ICON’s machines. 

…to the Moon: The idea that ICON’s technology could someday work in space has been around since the beginning, Ballard said. A month after building the world’s first permanent 3D house, ICON entered a NASA contest to design a 3D-printed habitat for Mars. The two have been collaborating ever since.

The two vastly different projects complement one another to advance 3D constructions technology both below the Karman line and beyond Earth, Ballard said: “If you get better at building houses in difficult, harsh, remote environments like the Moon, you probably are also going to be better at it on Earth. And getting better housing on Earth is also a profound opportunity and problem to solve.”