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Published on February 3rd, 2013 | by Michael Ricciardi

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Building a Moon Base? How About 3D Printing It Instead?

February 3rd, 2013 by

ESA's planned lunar base

The European Space Agency and a consortium of industry professionals investigated the feasibility of using 3D printing to build a lunar base.
CREDIT: ESA/Foster + Partners

3D printing technology is finding some remarkable applications these days; more than just a clever way to make personalized furniture or dishware, 3D printing (using rapid prototyping software) has of late expanded into biomedicine and anti-cancer drug manufacturing.

But now, this rapid 3D printing technology — which relies on design software-controlled lasers — is poise to enter the ‘next gen’ Space Age by helping to fulfill the dream of establishing a permanent lunar colony.

It’s all in the draft stage right now, but it may just be the most practical, scalable, fastest and affordable way to “install” a lunar base during future moon missions.

Printing a Moon Base from Moon Dust

The European Space Agency (ESA), along with a private sector partner, is investigating the practicality of constructing a lunar base using only 3D printing technology — and using only moon dust as the building material.

“Terrestrial 3D printing technology has produced entire structures. Our industrial team investigated if it could similarly be employed to build a lunar habitat.” said Laurent Pambaguian, who heads the project for ESA, in a press statement.

The ESA team has partnered with a London-based architectural firm — Foster + Partners — to draft concepts for a 3D-printed lunar base  [See more photos of the planned 3D-printed moon base ].

The architectural firm has extensive experience designing habitats for extreme terrestrial climates with emphasis on using local, sustainable building materials. So, teaming up with ESA for this project seems a natural extension of that experience

As currently conceived, the Foster + Partners design concept is for a four-person moon base made completely of repurposed “moon dirt” referred to as regolith.

This repurposing of local (moon) materials eliminates the prohibitive cost of transporting large quantities of building materials from the Earth to the moon. A mobile, robotic printer would build up the base as it maneuvers over an inflatable dome used as a temporary scaffolding.

In an interview with Space.com, Scott Hovland of ESA’s human spaceflight team stated:

“3D printing offers a potential means of facilitating lunar settlement with reduced logistics from Earth.The new possibilities this work opens up can then be considered by international space agencies as part of the current development of a common exploration strategy.”

Some moon Base Construction Details

The base would be a semi-modular, cell-like structure with a strong frame modeled after bird bones (which are mostly hollow, lightweight, but resistant to breakages). The structure is designed  to protect inhabitants from gamma radiation as well as micrometeorites.

ESA and partners have already built part of the base using a mixture of silicon, aluminum, calcium, iron and magnesium oxides which simulates the chemical makeup of the moon’s actual regolith.

building material made of simulated moon dirt (

This 2,205 pound (1,000 kilograms)test-print is made from simulated lunar dirt and resembles a cross section of what the lunar home could look like.
CREDIT: ESA

As a test project, the team has printed out a 2200 lb (1000 kilogram) segment of the building material so that the team could get a good sense of what it would look like, and, more importantly, to perform additional tests (strength, radiation proofing, etc.). Other components of the base are being built inside a vacuum chamber to better simulate space conditions.
The ideal location for the planned moon base is thought to be the southern lunar pole which is slightly angled toward the sun — providing nearly continuous sunlight on the horizon.
The use of 3D printing technology to produce building materials for space-based purposes is not entirely new; last year, NASA administered a challenge to students and researchers at Washington State university (in Pullman, WA) to print simulated regolith into smooth, cylindrical shapes to test their feasibility for off-world construction..

For more information on this 3D printed moon based, visit the Space.com feature article

 

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About the Author

Michael Ricciardi is a well-published writer of science/nature/technology articles as well as essays, poetry and short fiction. Michael has interviewed dozen of scientists from many scientific fields, including Brain Greene, Paul Steinhardt, Arthur Shapiro, and Nobel Laureate Ilya Progogine (deceased). Michael was trained as a naturalist and taught natural science on Cape Cod, Mass. from 1986-1991. His first arts grant was for production of the environmental (video) documentary 'The Jones River - A Natural History', 1987-88 (Kingston, Mass.). Michael is an award winning, internationally screened video artist. Two of his more recent short videos; 'A Time of Water Bountiful' and 'My Name is HAM' (an "imagined memoir" about the first chimp in space), and several other short videos, can be viewed on his website (http://www.chaosmosis.net). He is also the author of the ebook 'Zombies, E.T's, and The Super Entity - A Selection of Most Stimulating Articles' and for Kindle: Artful Survival ~ Creative Options for Chaotic Times



  • SeaKat

    Something I have always wanted to know – why is this called 3D printing? Shouldn’t it be called Replicating?

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