by: Nabil Remadna, Nexstar Media Wire
Posted: Apr 2, 2021 / 11:05 AM MDT
Updated: April 2, 2021 / 11:05 AM MDT
AUSTIN (KXAN) – What do you see when you look into space? The stars? The moon? A startup from Austin, Texas sees opportunities. “Our goal is to change the construction industry,” said Conner Jenkins, ICON construction project manager.
ICON, an Austin-based startup founded in 2017, is no stranger to pushing the boundaries of building. The company has built several houses using a 3D printer. “We firmly believe that it is the method that will change the way we build houses and build a new future,” said Jenkins.
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That future could take them into space, where building new structures would be vital for further exploration. “We wouldn’t be printing rocket pads on Earth if we didn’t believe that one day they would land on the moon,” Jenkins said.
A team of students from 10 colleges and universities in the United States – members of the Artemis generation – worked with NASA and ICON to design and build a reusable landing pad that can be 3D printed from materials found on the moon. “We were the first group of NASA Academy students to get funding to build something like this,” said Helen Carson, a materials science student at the University of Washington.
“This is the first milestone on the road to the creation of the out-of-the-world construction that enables humanity to stay – and not just visit the stars,” said Michael McDaniel, ICON design director.
The Lunar Plume Alleviation Device (Lunar PAD) focuses on solving the problems that arise when the force of the powerful exhaust from an engine hits the dusty surface of the moon. The design features a series of petal-like channels that direct exhaust gases up and out, minimizing the amount of dust that is stirred up during takeoff and landing. “It could really speak of the possibility of using a pad like this in the future if we can find the design and really let it mature into a lunar concept,” Carson said.
The students proposed their landing site solution for the first time in the summer of 2019. Her high-level proposal was funded and supported by subject matter experts from NASA. In June 2020, the team secured funding to print and test a sub-scale version of the pad. “We deployed the 3D printer, set it up, and after setting up the printer, we printed the structure in seven hours,” said Jenkins.
Upon completion of the test launch, the team announced that the 3D printed launchpad worked exactly as it should.