Good morning. Join us in extending a very happy belated birthday to Payload’s very own Jess Lis, director of operations, webinar host extraordinaire, and the author of today’s second story. Congrats on another trip around the sun, Jess.
And…a quick programming note: Pathfinder #0025 goes live today at 11:30am Eastern. We’re timing the release of the episode with some news that will break later this morning. Watch for the episode to drop by subscribing to Pathfinder wherever great pods are served or by following us on social.
In today's newsletter:
🌙 ICON wins NASA contract
🛰️ South Korea’s space moves
🔁 On the move
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A House of Moon Rocks
Within a decade, a startup known for building cheap 3D-printed houses on Earth is hoping to bring the materials cost for building structures on the lunar surface down to zero. Austin-based ICON said this morning that it won a $57.2M Phase III SBIR award from NASA that will bring its 3D printing technology all the way to the Moon.
From Earth…Jason Ballard, cofounder and CEO of ICON, started the company in 2017 with the goal of solving the global housing crisis.
“If we're going to be the advanced civilization we say we are and think we are, we ought to be better at sheltering ourselves,” Ballard told Payload. “We must have ways of sheltering ourselves that don't ruin this planet in the first place.”
ICON’s first act was to construct neighborhoods of 3D-printed homes across several US states and Mexico. ICON builds its homes with a proprietary material somewhere between a mortar and a concrete, and they’re printed in place using ICON’s machines.
…to the Moon: The idea that ICON’s technology could someday work in space has been around since the beginning, Ballard said. A month after building the world’s first permanent 3D house, ICON entered a NASA contest to design a 3D-printed habitat for Mars. The two have been collaborating ever since.
The two vastly different projects complement one another to advance 3D constructions technology both below the Karman line and beyond Earth, Ballard said: “If you get better at building houses in difficult, harsh, remote environments like the Moon, you probably are also going to be better at it on Earth. And getting better housing on Earth is also a profound opportunity and problem to solve.”
The Phase III award
Under this contract, ICON will take its 3D printing technology all the way to a demonstration on the lunar surface in 2026 (assuming the Artemis mission timeline stays on track).
This demonstration will use actual lunar regolith (the rocks and dust that make up the surface of the Moon) to build a structure meeting NASA’s strength requirements. This is an important step for ensuring that humanity can sustain a long-term lunar presence, Ballard said.
“If you tried to plan a lunar settlement or a moon base and you had to bring everything with you, every time you wanted to build a new thing it's like another $100M,” Ballard said. “But once you've got a system that can build almost anything—landing pads, roadways, habitats—and it uses local material, you are probably two or three orders of magnitude cheaper to build a permanent lunar presence than you would be in any other way that we can think of.”
How it works: The difference between the terrestrial and space versions of ICON’s 3D printing technology starts with the materials used to build, Ballard said. At home, ICON builds its structures from a water-based material, but water sublimates on the Moon. It would also be expensive to bring additives to mix in with lunar regolith to make it easier to build with.
Instead, ICON says it can build structures using only the regolith by:
- Fine-tuning the printer’s laser based on the chemical makeup of the specific sample of regolith being used
- Laying down a layer of regolith
- Using the laser to melt the regolith into a ceramic structure
- Laying down another layer of regolith on top
- Rinsing and repeating
The company has tested this approach using simulated regolith in vacuum demonstrations on Earth.
What’s next? The composition of the lunar regolith can vary greatly depending on where the mission lands, so the next few years will involve rigorous testing to ensure 3D printers can work with whatever materials we find on the lunar surface. The NASA award will also support the construction of a flight-ready printer system and fund ICON’s first construction project on the lunar surface.
NASA? Meet KASA
South Korea is set to soon get its own NASA counterpart.
That’s the plan, President Yoon Suk-yeol said Monday. Yoon laid out ambitious plans for bolstering his nation’s space economy, including goals to land a spacecraft on the Moon by 2032 and Mars by 2045. The 2045 Mars landing is aptly timed for the 100th anniversary of South Korea’s liberation from Japan's colonial rule.
"From now on, a country with a vision for space can lead the global economy and solve the problems facing humanity." Yoon said Monday. "The dream for a space power will not be a distant future, but an opportunity and hope for children and young people.”
The fine text
Yoon is making good on a campaign promise to stand up a national space agency. His plan calls for the establishment of an agency by next year, production of a homegrown rocket for a lunar mission, and a strategy to begin mining lunar resources before 2032.
The new agency, Korea Aerospace Administration (KASA), will live under the Ministry of Science and ICT. It will be entirely separate from the existing Korea Aerospace Research Institute and is expected to form next year via passage of special legislation.
The roadmap also outlines six major policy goals:
- Explore the Moon and Mars
- Leap forward as a space technology powerhouse
- Foster the space industry
- Nurture space talent
- Realize space security
- Lead international cooperation
On that last point…Work with European spacefaring nations appears to be forming on the immediate horizon. Luxembourg's Economic Minister Franz Fayot said Monday that the country is the ideal beachhead for South Korea’s space industry to expand into the European market.
Share this with someone who would love to drink soju in space:
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Sign Up For Our Next Webinar On Lunar Comms
Communication between spacecraft and Earth is one of the most vital elements allowing humans to reach the Moon, but what happens once we get there?
Join leaders from ispace and CesiumAstro to learn more about what they are doing for NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program and the future of lunar communications.
In Other News
- Inmarsat reported a 7% increase in Q3 revenue and a 17% boost in EBITDA YoY.
- BlueWalker 3 is now the brightest artificial satellite in the night sky, and cracked the top 20 brightest objects in the night sky—planets and stars included.
- China announced the crew of Shenzhou 15 will be Fei Junlong, Deng Qingming, and Zhang Lu. The mission is slated to launch in about an hour.
- Russia launched its final GLONASS-M navigation satellite on a Soyuz from Plesetsk Cosmodrome.
- VP Kamala Harris will meet with French president Emmanuel Macron at NASA’s HQ tomorrow.
On the Move
- Redwire ($RDW) president and COO Andrew Rush is leaving the company on Dec. 9, per mutual agreement, the company says in a filing.
- Axiom hired Constance O'Brien as COO.
- Eutelsat (PAR:ETL) announced the appointment of Christophe Caudrelier as CFO.
- AIAA announced its newly elected class of 2023 associate fellows.
- ESA unveiled its class of 2022 Astronauts (via Payload).
The View from Space
One day ago in 1963, LBJ announced to the nation in a televised address that Cape Canaveral would be renamed to Cape Kennedy, in honor of JFK, who had been assassinated six days earlier. While the name was eventually changed back to Cape Canaveral, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center—known as KSC—kept the same name.
Above you’ll see a shot from Apollo 10’s rollout to SLC 39B. Below, see CRS-26 launch from pad 39A on Saturday.