AUSTIN (KXAN) — When you look into space what do you see? The stars? The moon? One Austin startup sees opportunity.
“Our goal is to change the construction industry,” said Conner Jenkins, construction project manager at ICON.
ICON, a local Austin startup started in 2017, is no stranger to pushing the limits of construction. The company has built multiple homes with a 3D printer.
“We truly believe it is the method that is going to change how we build homes and build us a new future,” Jenkins said.
That future could take them into space where building new structures would be critical for further exploration.
“We wouldn’t be printing rocket pads on Earth if we didn’t think they would end up on the moon one day,” Jenkins said.
A team of undergraduate students from 10 colleges and universities across the United States —members of the Artemis Generation — teamed up with NASA and ICON to design and construct a reusable landing pad that could be 3D printed from materials found on the moon.
“We were the first group of undergraduates from the NASA academy to get the funding and go on to build something like this,” said Helen Carson, materials science and engineering student at the University of Washington.
“This is the first milestone on the journey to making off-world construction a reality, which will allow humanity to stay — not just visit the stars,” said Michael McDaniel, ICON’s head of design.
The Lunar Plume Alleviation Device, or Lunar PAD, focuses on solving the problems caused when the force of an engine’s powerful exhaust meets the dusty lunar surface. The design features a series of petal-like channels that send exhaust upward and outward, minimizing the amount of dust lofted during launch and landing.
“It could really speak to the possibility to use a pad like this in the future if we can find the design and really mature it into a lunar concept,” Carson said.
The students first proposed their landing pad solution during the summer 2019 NASA Proposal Writing and Evaluation Experience. Their top-ranking proposal won funding and support from NASA subject matter experts. In June 2020, the team secured funding to print and test a subscale version of the pad.
“We deployed the 3D printer, got it set up, and once we got the printer set up we printed the structure in 7 hours,” Jenkins said.
Once the test launch was completed the team said the 3D-printed launchpad worked just like it was supposed to.