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