How Space Companies Plan to Build Roads and Bases on the Moon

Companies previewed their plans to build lunar infrastructure this week at the 2023 Humans to Mars Summit in Washington DC.

Science fiction is filled with dazzling cities constructed on the Moon and Mars, but it will be a huge challenge to bring these extraterrestrial bases into reality. Nonetheless, the dream of establishing a long-term human presence on the Moon has been gaining momentum, especially as NASA and its partners prepare to return astronauts to the lunar surface this decade as part of the Artemis program.


As part of the effort to deliver on this vision, space experts from a wide variety of fields convened in Washington DC this week for the 2023 Humans to Mars Summit (H2M), an annual conference on human space exploration organized by the nonprofit Explore Mars. Though the conference is named for the red planet, many of the panels also explored the human future on the Moon, which is seen by NASA and others as a gateway to Mars, and other locations in deep space.

Government agencies still dominate lunar exploration, but private space companies are increasingly developing their own strategies for constructing infrastructure on the Moon. For instance, a H2M panel on Wednesday entitled “Civil Engineering and Construction on the Moon and Mars” showcased plans from the companies ICON and Astroport to build roads, launchpads, and other buildings on the lunar surface.

Melodie Yasher, who serves as vice president of building design and performance at ICON, previewed her company’s vision of lunar infrastructure based on 3D-printing and additive manufacturing technologies. ICON has already constructed a range of homes and buildings on Earth with 3D-printing, and ultimately aims to extend their business to the Moon, with NASA’s support.


“We’re thinking about how we can use and leverage additive manufacturing technologies to create surface infrastructure on the Moon, and eventually Mars,” Yashar said in her presentation.  

“We're looking into how to create, first, horizontal construction elements such as landing pads and roadways, and then eventually thinking about how we can develop vertical construction elements” such as “unpressurized structures and eventually, habitats that are pressurized and certified for human occupancy,” she added.

ICON plans to use lunar dirt, known as regolith, as a resource to manufacture a wide range of infrastructure projects on the Moon with a single robotic 3D-printing system. In 2022, the company won a $57.2 million Small Business Innovation Research contract from NASA to develop its lunar construction techniques. ICON also 3D-printed a habitat called Mars Dune Alpha at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Next month, a group of four volunteers will move into the simulated Mars base and live there for an entire year as a way to prepare for eventual human missions to Mars.

“We're very excited to see what the results of that mission yield and how it establishes standards and guidelines for future long duration missions,” Yashar said.

Later in the same panel, Sam Ximenes, founder and CEO of XArc Exploration Architecture Corporation, also offered a sneak peek of the lunar technologies in development at the XArc subsidiary Astroport. Ximenes and his colleagues at Astroport are focused on making Moon bricks out of lunar regolith that can be used to construct landing pads, as part of their “Lunatron” bricklayer vision. 

“Bricks are a basic building material here on Earth that are used in all kinds of applications from roads, to foundations, to structures,” Ximenes said. “We've been able to make the bricks in a vacuum” which is “very important because we have to be able to prove that we can work in the same environment as on the Moon.” 

Astroport is working with researchers at the University of Texas, San Antonio, to invent an induction furnace nozzle that heats up lunar regolith so that it can melt, then solidify, into bricks. A number of specialized robots would then assemble the materials into landing pads that can accommodate robotic and crewed missions to the Moon’s surface. In addition to the company’s work on lunar technologies, it has also created concepts for future human missions to Mars.

The extraterrestrial infrastructure envisioned by the companies has been beautifully visualized in concept art and videos, but these projects are still in the development phase and could take decades to materialize, assuming they do at all. Even so, the presentations this week at H2M provide a glimpse of a possible future that places humans back on the Moon and, eventually, onward to Mars.