Startups Austin-based ICON awarded $57.2 million NASA contract for lunar...

Austin-based ICON awarded $57.2 million NASA contract for lunar construction technology


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ICONa construction engineering company that has raised more than $400 million in funding has won a new contract from NASA to develop new systems to build on the moon and Mars.

The $57.2 million contract is a continuation of a previous Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) dual-use contract with the United States Air Force that was funded in part by NASA. This award supports the development of what ICON calls ‘Project Olympus’, an ambitious plan to build structures on the Moon and Mars using in-situ resources.

“To shift the space exploration paradigm from ‘there and back’ to ‘there to stay,’ we need robust, resilient and generally capable systems that can utilize the local resources of the Moon and other planetary bodies,” ICON CEO Jason Ballard said in a statement. Clearly, NASA agrees. Indeed, the agency has explicitly stated that one of the goals of its ambitious Artemis lunar program is to establish a long-term human presence on the moon. But so far, NASA hasn’t made clear plans about where those astronauts will stay once they get there.

Best known for its 3D printed houses, ICON has been working on Project Olympus for a while now. The company received the first SBIR grant from the US Air Force in October 2020 for $14.55 million. This last financing will keep the project alive for at least another handful of years: the contract will run until 2028.

Under the terms of this contract, ICON will collaborate with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center under the name “Moon to Mars Planetary Autonomous Construction Technologies” project. The company plans to work with lunar regolith samples and take its hardware and software into space to develop construction approaches that can function best in the moon’s cold, low-gravity atmosphere. Habitats aren’t the only thing on the company’s radar: It also monitors landing pads and other infrastructure to aid long-term lunar exploration.

ICON has experienced explosive growth since its inception in late 2017. The company posted a Series B of $207 million last August and closed another $185 million just six months later. Sources told that the latest funding pushed ICON’s valuation up nearly $2 billion.

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