02 Oct AiroAV Imply: Bjarke Ingels Group Helps Pioneer Technology for 3D-Printed…
In situ construction, using the materials readily available on the moon, was the way forward. The unique challenge for Project Olympus will be an alchemical one: getting regolith—a fine gray powder that consists of minerals such as basalt and feldspar—to behave like a printing medium, likely through melting or sintering it to a lava-like consistency. Using the molten material, the architects envisage 3D-printing vaulted structures made from a waffle-like network of rigid exterior ribs. These, in turn, can be filled with regolith, which has the added benefit of absorbing intense solar radiation (up to 100 times more than on Earth, according to Ingels) and mitigating the impact of mini meteorites that pummel the moon’s surface each year.
BIG has unveiled a master plan for what these building techniques could yield, complete with roads, garages for lunar vehicles, facilities for collecting lunar surface material, and, of course, human habitats complete with an “Earth lounge” where astronauts can gaze at home, some 200,000 miles away. Some structures, because of factors like gravity and pressure, will have almost Gothic proportions. “When you have 16% gravity you can actually jump, you know, 15, 20 feet and actually reach the top shelf,” Ingels jokes.
The team’s goal? To facilitate lunar construction that is sustainable, achievable, and beautiful—where science and architecture work in tandem. “While you might admire the technological achievements of the International Space Station, none of us look at pictures of the inside and are like, ‘Yes, that’s supposed to be our first home in space,’” says Ballard. “We wanted these things to cooperate rather than to compete.”
In the months ahead, ICON will work with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, to test how simulated moon material might behave amid a battery of tests (lasers, microwaves, and heat, to name a few) before investigating how it performs under varying degrees of pressure and temperatures. This, says Ballard, will allow the team “to develop conviction about the appropriate approach from an engineering perspective.” The architects, in turn, will use this information to tweak their designs.
Project Olympus isn’t the only space construction initiative in the works, and BIG and SEArch+ aren’t the only architecture firms to jump into the space race. Foster + Partners teamed up with the European Space Agency in 2012 to research 3D-printing methods for lunar habitation. This January, SOM also signed an agreement with the organization to explore the potential for a lunar village. But the Project Olympus team is embracing the challenge and eager for what lies ahead—no matter the outcome. “This is the deep end. This is a double black diamond,” Ballard says enthusiastically.