Austin-based ICON, developer behind the city's first 3D-printed homes, is taking its construction technologies to space once more with a 3D-printed habitat known as the Mars Dune Alpha.
In a press release, the company announced it was awarded a subcontract through Jacobs supporting NASA Space Technology Mission Directorate Friday to build the 1,700 square-foot structure. Made by the very same technology that brings the 3D houses to life, the habitat is meant to simulate a "realistic Mars habitat."
Mars Dune Alpha is being made with ICON's Vulcan construction system—the same it uses to 3D print houses. (ICON)
Designed by architecture firm BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group, Mars Dune Alpha is part of NASA's The Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog study, which is a sequence of three one-year Mars surface mission simulations that will take place at the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston starting in fall 2022.
While this structure is a simulation, it could be the future for building on Mars using additive construction technology, which is the entire process of building a structure from materials produced on-site, as sending building materials on multiple flights would be too costly.
CHAPEA will assess NASA's space food system, physical and behavioral health of participants and performance outcomes for future long-duration and exploration-class missions on Mars.
"This is the highest-fidelity simulated habitat ever constructed by humans," ICON co-founder and CEO Jason Ballard said. "Mars Dune Alpha is intended to serve a very specific purpose—to prepare humans to live on another planet. We wanted to develop the most faithful analog possible to aid in humanity's dream to expand into the stars."
ICON's version of life on Mars will look somewhat like a sci-fi movie—the rectangular, utilitarian structure is designed with four private crew quarters adjacent to the facilities and crop growing areas on one end, work and medical stations on the other, divided by living quarters.
ICON says the structure will include a mixture of fixed and movable furniture, an arched ceiling to avoid spatial monotony, as well as customizable lighting, temperatures and sound control to promote a healthy circadian rhythm and suit the crew's daily needs.
A concept of the structure, which will remain on Earth... for now. (ICON)
This isn't the startup's first rodeo with NASA, in March it announced it was teaming up with the space agency and members of its Artemis Generation to create a 3-D-printed rocket landing pad made of materials found on the moon and the company is working with NASA on "Project Olympus," research on a space-based construction system to support future exploration of the moon.
NASA begins recruitment for the one-year Mars mission analog study today and will accept applications until mid-September.
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East Austin restaurant la Barbecue has been robbed a third time in less than three months, according to a post on the restaurant's Instagram.
In the post, the restaurant included photos of what appeared to be a man exiting a minivan from surveillance footage.
"This guy pulled up in a car full of stuff… he ripped our gate open and stole a couple empty kegs," the post said. "The ring system scared him off so he did not venture back into the area. PLEASE EVERYONE ON THE EAST SIDE BE CAREFUL!!! This guy goes back into his car to grab something before he goes in. I am hoping he won’t be back!!"
The robbery comes as many restaurant and food truck owners have been on guard from recent break-ins. East Austin cheesesteak truck R&B's Steak and Fries has also been robbed three times in around three months, according to owner Kris Elliott. Elliot said the truck was last robbed around a month and a half ago.
"When the weather gets cold, it seems like these things start to happen more often," Elliott said. "We're just happy no one got hurt."
Additionally, he said all 5 of the food trucks in their lot have experienced burglaries. The landlord of the space is taking action by investing in alarm and camera systems. "Been very tough dealing with this problem as us small business owners are just trying to survive during the pandemic," Elliott said.
And it's not just in East Austin. North Austin restaurants Eldorado Cafe and Chez Zee Bistro were both broken into and robbed on the weekend of Jan. 8, while over a dozen food truck robberies and break-ins were reported in the latter half of 2021.
Some, like Chez Zee's Deborah Velasco, wonder if the understaffed Austin Police Department's decision to no longer respond to non-emergency calls is part of the problem. Xose Velasco, owner of East Austin's Discada, said owners are keeping their guard up in the wake of the robberies as he was robbed twice within a month of reopening in November 2021.
"We try to keep the lights on," Velasco said. "We're a little bit more careful."
After 12 months, the long-anticipated massive Tesla factory in Southeast Travis County is up and operating and everyone wants a look inside.
Phase 1 of Giga Texas appears to be tied up as production of the Model Y Tesla is underway, the electric car company revealed on Wednesday in its fourth-quarter earnings call. The factory, located on the former Harold Green-turned Tesla Road, sits on more than 2,000 acres of land in southeast Travis County.
Here's a glimpse inside the factory.
Model Ys will be the first Teslas to come out of Giga Texas with an estimated delivery of August. The wait estimate comes after Tesla noted supply chain issues have affected their factories, which have been running below capacity for several quarters. A deep blue metallic like this goes for $1,000 more than a white or silver Model Y, totaling $61,990.
Model Ys began being produced at Giga Texas at the end of 2020. In general assembly at the factory, the Teslas get their major interior components to finish the vehicle.
Workers at Austin's Gigafactory are attaching seats to a structural battery pack. It's been described by some as the biggest difference between Texas-made Model Y's and the current version at the Fremont, California factory. It shouldn't have a major impact on the owner's experience, but Tesla has updated instructions for the jacking procedure, as the lift points are different.
With a sleek, open office setup, workers can take in a view of the factory from their seats. It's a component CEO Elon Musk wanted for what is now the headquarters of Tesla.
On the Austin, Texas public location Snapchat, a photo of inside Giga Texas has appeared. On the left you can see a sneak peek of a Model Y body.pic.twitter.com/N7zliZ5vkL— Sawyer Merritt (@Sawyer Merritt) 1643081462
With Snapchat's maps, anyone can look at everyday activity happening at the factory. To view these geographically-linked stories, click the bottom left "map" icon and search "Tesla Giga Texas." Once you've found it, you can view the Snapchat story of those in and around the facility. While most stories stay up for only 24 hours, Giga Texas is a designated place on Snapchat, allowing users to view a collection of photos and videos from the inside.
Following Model Ys, Texas-made Teslas will include the Cybertruck, Semi and Model 3. But it might be a while before those other models arrive. EV makers have been hit hard by the chip shortage, and it's thought that changing features are contributing to Cybertruck delays as Tesla works to compete in the electric pickup market.
Joe Rogan paid a visit to buddy Elon Musk this week. The two have been seen around town since both moving to Texas. Naturally, Rogan was impressed with the prototype.
If you're dying to get a closer look at this factory, you just might get to. In December, Musk said the factory would have tours available to the community early this year.
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