Danish architecture firm Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), inventive construction start-up ICON and a sublime design firm SEArch+ have stepped forward to uncloak the big plan to imagine humanity’s home in another world with Project Olympus. Working with NASA, the collaboration seeks to develop a “space-based construction system that could support future exploration of the Moon”
It’s been 50 years since the first lunar landing, and many have entered the space race from SpaceX to Space Force, while dreams are getting bigger and bigger. We have always known that the future of humanity lies beyond our imaginations. From the moment humankind first laid eyes on the shining jewel, the Moon in the sky. It was an insatiable dream to reach out and touch down on our closest neighbour’s rocky surface. Stories, mysteries, secrets, divine scriptures and fantasies have strewn about the radiant rock, that glorifies its magnificence in the night sky.
Project Olympus has stirred minds and turned many heads. It is a research initiative that will investigate and conduct a modus operandi to 3D print structures on the Moon using the lunar dust as its prime material. The concept marks to envisage a medium to permanent habitation on the surface of the Moon. A small business innovation research grant funds the project through the U.S Air Force, of which 1.8 million comes from NASA. ICON’s founder Jason Ballard says that having to push boundaries of the technology will abet in accelerating its development on Earth.
ICON has turned out to be a company from the future, already developing a wide range of innovative 3D printed structures on a massive scale. A mammoth machine named ‘Vulcan II’ can jet out a house in under 24 hours, and they are currently coiling out world’s first 3D printed community in Mexico. It’s long been a dream of the company to step into the realm of space and become the next frontier of the human race.
Enters Ingels, upon hearing the rumours of a company performing 3D printing in architectural scale. BIG has been on the lookout for ways to spill their magical touch in outer space. Ingels had an inception of the idea through a test-case Martian colony visualized in the deserts of Dubai. And it was after a visit to ICON’s Austin faculties and observing closely at Vulcan II spirited a partnership between them. The architect focused on two things – affordable housing and lunar habitat, two extremities, yet part of the same question.
SEArch+, a New York architecture firm known for their research into extra-terrestrial structures got roped in to configure a plan on how to erect structures on the lunar surface using ICON’s technologies, without hauling materials back and forth.
The sparkling idea was to use the materials readily available on the Moon. Project Olympus will turn out to be an alchemical one. Regolith is a layer of unconsolidated solid material covering the surface of the Moon. It is a delicate grey powder that consists of minerals such as basalt and feldspar, which will behave like printing medium by melting or sintering it to a lava-like consistency.
The molten materials compose 3D printed vaulted structures reflecting a waffle network interlaced to form rigid exterior spines. Later, regolith gets poured onto these frames that would intentionally intake intense solar radiation that is 100 times stronger than on Earth and also helps in forming a firm skin that protects from the migrating mini meteorites that slap onto the Moon’s surface every year.
BIG has configured a masterplan for the architectural techniques that could imprint a small community with full-fledged roads, lunar vehicle garage stations, collecting facilities for lunar materials and comfortable human habitats with an ‘Earth Lounge’ where astronauts can gaze back at our blue home about 200,000 miles away. Ingels has imagined some structures to follow a gothic style due to factors like gravity and pressure. He said that ‘When you have 16% gravity you can jump to scale about 15-20 ft. and reach the top shelves’.
The scale and the imagination are magnanimous, to facilitate a lunar construction that is sustainable, achievable and aesthetically glamourous- it’s like the science fiction stories coming to life. Cooperation is what they are aiming to perform than to compete. The design and the spaces inside must speak of our advancement in becoming something more than an earthling.