Design

These 3D-printed donut buildings could enable lunar living

Innovators in architecture and construction are teaming up with NASA for off-world solutions.

Icon/BIG

On October 1, construction company Icon announced it had received funding from NASA to launch Project Olympus. The off-world construction system is designed for the moon in partnership with renowned architecture firms Search+ and Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). Icon is best known for constructing 3D housing at scale and is working on a machine that can do so autonomously, according to Fast Company.

Living in space — NASA’s Artemis program plans on sending the first woman (and some more men) to the moon by 2024 and to establish a base there. In the American Way, it’s already looking for bidders to mine the moon’s resources. To oversee all of this fine industry, research the planet, and essentially create a pit stop on the way to Mars by the 2030s, the astronauts are going to need somewhere to stay when not wearing their cutting-edge suits.

That’s where our trio of heroes enters. You’ve probably seen videos of Icon 3D-printing houses, Search+ has an existing relationship with NASA, and BIG has brought us hits like the Lego House museum. After a learning curve regarding the demanding needs of a lunar structure, the team unveiled its first concepts for the buildings.

"NASA has signaled that, through the Artemis program, the Moon will be the first off-Earth site for sustainable surface exploration," Icon explains. "Building a sustainable presence on the Moon requires more than rockets. For a permanent lunar presence to exist, robust structures will need to be built on the Moon that provide better thermal, radiation, and micrometeorite protection than metal or inflatable habitats can provide. From landing pads to habitats, these collective efforts are driven by the need to make humanity a spacefaring civilization."

Like a balloon — “It’s almost like a balloon that wants to burst,” Ingles, founder of BIG, said to Fast Company. “This kind of language started emerging that, when you look at it, you could suspect is ornamental but it’s 100 percent functional.”

The igloo-like structures will be complemented by the less striking parts of infrastructure like roads and landing pads, but even the simplest aspects will, by definition, be the first of their kind.

The innovation from Project Olympus will reflect back down on Earth by making construction easier and more affordable. At least, that's the hope. Icon’s current structure-building printer takes three people to operate it, but the version on the moon will run on its own. Even space toilets could get a fresh upgrade out of this program. Because whether it's the moon or Mars, we're still going to need certain human essentials.