Texas Company Aims to 3D-Print Buildings on the Moon

Article by Mike Wall                                      October 2, 2020                                   (space.com)

• The Austin-based company ICON, known for 3D-printing houses here on Earth, just launched Project Olympus to develop a space-based construction system to help get a foothold on the Moon and Mars. “From the very founding of ICON, we’ve been thinking about off-world construction,” said ICON CEO Jason Ballard. “I am confident that learning to build on other worlds will also provide the necessary breakthroughs to solve housing challenges we face on this world.”

• Project Olympus recently signed a four-year, $14.55M Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) deal with the U.S. Air Force to expand the capabilities of its 3D-printing tech. NASA is contributing 15% of the SBIR funding.

• NASA’s interest in ICON’s 3D-printing construction tech is tied to the Artemis program for manned lunar exploration and permanent base on the Moon by 2030. Making this happen will require extensive use of lunar resources, including water ice (for life support and rocket fuel) and moon dirt (for building materials). A similar devotion to “living off the land” will likely be necessary for sustained human exploration of Mars.

• ICON will partner with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama to test a variety of processing and printing technologies using simulated lunar soil. “We want to increase the technology readiness level and test systems to prove it would be feasible to develop a large-scale 3D printer that could build infrastructure on the Moon or Mars,” said Corky Clinton, associate director of Marshall’s Science and Technology Office. “The team will use what we learn from the tests with the lunar simulant to design, develop and demonstrate prototype elements for a full-scale additive construction system.”

• ICON is also teaming with two architecture firms on the program – SEArch+ (Space Exploration Architecture) and Denmark-based BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group. “To explain the power of architecture, ‘formgiving’ is the Danish word for design, which literally means to give form to that which has not yet been given form,” said Bjarke Ingels, creative director at the BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group. “This becomes fundamentally clear when we venture beyond Earth and begin to imagine how we are going to build and live on entirely new worlds.”

• “With ICON, we are pioneering new frontiers – both materially, technologically and environmentally,” Ingels said. “The answers to our challenges on Earth very well might be found on the Moon.”

 

                         Jason Ballard

A Texas company aims to take its innovative homebuilding approach into the final frontier.

Austin-based startup ICON, known for 3D-printing houses here on Earth, just launched Project Olympus,

                 Corky Clinton

an ambitious effort to develop a space-based construction system. The program will eventually help humanity get a foothold on the moon and Mars, if all goes according to plan.

“From the very founding of ICON, we’ve been thinking about off-world construction. It’s a surprisingly natural progression if you are asking about the ways additive construction and 3D printing can create a better future for humanity,” ICON co-founder and CEO Jason Ballard said in a company statement.

“I am confident that learning to build on other worlds will also provide the necessary breakthroughs to solve housing challenges we face on this world,” Ballard said. “These are mutually reinforcing endeavors.”

Project Olympus will get a boost from a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract that ICON recently signed with the U.S. Air Force to expand the capabilities of its 3D-printing tech.

The four-year deal is worth $14.55 million, according to the Austin Business Journal. (You can find the outlet’s story

           Bjarke Ingels

here, but it’s behind a paywall.) NASA is contributing 15% of the SBIR sum, ICON representatives told Space.com.

NASA’s interest in ICON’s tech makes sense. The space agency is working, via its Artemis program of crewed lunar exploration, to establish a long-term human presence on and around the moon by the end of the 2020s. Making this happen will require extensive use of lunar resources, including water ice (for life support and rocket fuel) and moon dirt (for building materials), NASA officials have stressed.

A similar devotion to “living off the land” will likely be necessary for sustained human exploration of Mars, an ambitious goal that Artemis will inform and advance, NASA officials have said.

As part of the newly announced SBIR deal, ICON will partner with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama to test a variety of processing and printing technologies using simulated lunar soil. The research will build upon tech that ICON demonstrated in 2018 during NASA’s 3D Printed Habitat Challenge, company representatives said.

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NASA Needs Your Help in the Search for Alien Life

Article by Becky Ferreira                                  October 2, 2020                                 (vice.com)

• Since the 1990s, scientists have discovered thousands of exoplanets throughout our galaxy contain a dizzying variety of extraterrestrial environments, some of which may host life.

• On September 29th, NASA launched the citizen science project ‘Planet Patrol’ on Zooniverse, inviting volunteers to join the hunt for new exoplanets by examining images snapped by the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), which has been in orbit around Earth since 2018.
• Veselin Kostov, a research scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland and the SETI Institute in California, said the project has already attracted more than 1,600 participants who have collectively delivered 100,000 individual classifications in just three days.

• “Citizen science projects are a great way to engage our built-in, never-ending curiosity about the world we live in,” says Kostov. Planet Patrol can also “promote a sense of a community pursuing the common goal of understanding the universe and our place in it.”

• The TESS satellite is designed to spot exoplanets as they pass in front of the stars they orbit, causing the star’s brightness to fade slightly. If these light dips occur at regular intervals, it’s a good sign that a planet may be present. Once the existence of an exoplanet has been confirmed, scientists can conduct follow-up observations that reveal basic properties of the distant world, including whether it might be habitable. For this reason, exoplanet-hunting is an important component of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI).

• Scientists use automated software and machine learning to sift through the hundreds of thousands of pictures TESS takes each year. These systems can flag likely exoplanets to a certain extent, but they have trouble recognizing “imposter” false transit events. For instance, binary systems that contain two stars can produce a light dip, or instrument and/or astrophysical noise that distort the TESS images, which automated processing software might accidentally catalog as an exoplanet candidate. “The human eye is very good at quickly and reliably spotting such image distortions,” says Kostov.

• Planet Patrol participants are tasked with evaluating the quality of TESS images used to distinguish between potential false positives and bona-fide planet candidates. It’s the latest of several exoplanet-hunting platforms that have benefitted from the time and dedication of amateur space enthusiasts, such as Planet Hunters and Exoplanet Explorers. Says Kostov, “My hope is that the project sparks a continuous interest in exoplanets in particular and in astrophysics in general.”

 

Since the 1990s, scientists have discovered thousands of exoplanets, which are worlds that orbit stars other than the Sun, revealing that our galaxy

                       Veselin Kostov

contains a dizzying variety of extraterrestrial environments, some of which may host life.

Now, NASA is inviting volunteers to join the hunt for new exoplanets by examining images snapped by the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), which has been in orbit around Earth since 2018.

On Monday, NASA launched the citizen science project Planet Patrol on Zooniverse, enabling anyone with an internet connection to spot and classify likely exoplanets in TESS’ starry images.

Veselin Kostov, a research scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland and the SETI Institute in California, said the project already has more than 1,600 participants who have collectively delivered 100,000 individual classifications in just three days.

“Citizen science projects are a great way to engage our built-in, never-ending curiosity about the world we live in—be it our own planet or a planet a hundred light years away,” said Kostov in an email.

Planet Patrol can also “promote a sense of a community pursuing the common goal of understanding the universe and our place in it,” Kostov added, which is especially welcome at a time when many people are stuck at home due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

TESS is designed to spot exoplanets as they pass in front of the stars they orbit, which is known as a transit. Transits cause the star’s brightness to fade slightly, and if these light dips occur at regular intervals, it’s a good sign that a planet may be present.

 

1:02 minute NASA “Planet Patrol” video (‘NASA Goddard’ YouTube)

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Space Debris is a Major Threat to Satellites and Extraterrestrial Travel

Article by Anna Harnes                                      September 27, 2020                                        (inquisitr.com)

• According to NPR, the International Space Station almost came into contact with space junk this past week for the third time this year. The debris usually consists of the broken pieces of satellites technology that have been used over the past 63 years of space exploration, travelling at 18,000 miles per hour. So even small objects can have dire consequences. Space debris is quickly becoming a major threat for satellites and extraterrestrial travel — and could have fatal implications.

• Raffi Khatchadourian, a reporter for The New Yorker, detailed the growing problem. One of the first signs that space debris would become an issue was back in 2015, when astronauts realized that an object was projected to hit the ISS at a staggering 31,000 miles per hour. The astronauts only had four hours to move the station, but it was too little time. So those on the craft had move into the capsule “lifeboat” and hope that the object missed. Fortunately, it did.

• “It’s estimated that there are 8,000 metric tons of sort of human-engineered mass zooming around the planet,” Khatchadourian explained. “About 26,000 of those (objects) are of a size that the US military can track, so 10 centimeters or larger. But when you get below the size of 10 centimeters, then you end up with, you know, something like a hundred million pieces that are the size of a millimeter or even a hundred trillion, the size of a micron. At the speeds we’re talking about, something the size of a grain of sand can destroy an entire spacecraft.”

• Scientists have not come up with a plan on how to clear the atmosphere, with suggestions ranging from lasers to nets to the seemingly sci-fi inspired “harpoons or robotic pincers.” Astronomers have long warned about ‘Kessler syndrome’, in which space becomes so crowded that it is unusable. This would have dire consequences for our modern world, which relies on satellites and other objects for a number of necessities.

 

Space debris is quickly becoming a major threat for satellites and extraterrestrial travel — and could have fatal implications for the latter if the issue is

     Raffi Khatchadourian

not stopped.

According to NPR, the International Space Station (ISS) almost came into contact with space junk this past week for the third time this year. The debris usually consists of the broken pieces of technology that have been used over the past 63 years of space exploration — most often from satellites. The trash often travels at speeds of around 18,000 miles per hour, meaning that even small objects can have dire consequences.

In an interview, Raffi Khatchadourian, a reporter for The New Yorker, detailed the growing problem.

Khatchadourian explained that one of the first signs that space debris would become an issue was back in 2015, when astronauts realized that an object was projected to hit the ISS at a staggering 31,000 miles per hour. It was detected late, so the astronauts only had four hours to move the station. It was too little time, so those on the craft had move into the capsule “lifeboat” and hope that the object missed. Fortunately, it did.

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