European Space Agency could ‘print’ first moon base

News 1 Feb, 2013

3D printing could pave way for man-made lunar structures.

The European Space Agency (ESA) has teamed up with London-based architects Foster + Partners to test 3D printing as a means to build the first moon base as part of its Clean Space initiative.

A major problem for anyone wishing to construct a moon base until now has been getting heavy building materials from Earth to the lunar surface.

However, it is thought 3D printing technology could overcome this, as the printer, which is comparatively light, would simply use lunar rocks to build the structure, and is up to 95 per cent more efficient than traditional manufacturing.

3D printing offers a potential means of facilitating lunar settlement with reduced logistics from Earth.

“Terrestrial 3D printing has produced entire structures,” said Laurent Pambaguian, head of the project for EAS.

“Our industrial team investigated if it could similarly be employed to build a lunar habitat,” he added.

Foster + Partners designed a domed building with a cellular structured wall that provides a good combination of strength and weight while protecting against micrometeoroids and cosmic radiation.

The habitation also incorporates a pressurised inflatable to shelter the astronauts.

Monolite UK provided one of its D-Shape 3D printers to carry out the construction, while Italian space research firm Alta worked with the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna engineering university to adapt the technique to a Moon mission.

Alta and Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna considered the problems of working in a vacuum and also managed to source rock from Italy that is 99.8 per cent similar to lunar soil.

While the team has confirmed the basic concept is sound, more work needs to be done to make the project a reality, such as controlling harmful Moon dust and dealing with the extreme temperature fluctuations of the moon’s surface.

However, Scott Hovland of the ESA’s human spaceflight team remained optimistic.

“3D printing offers a potential means of facilitating lunar settlement with reduced logistics from Earth,” Hovlend said.

“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,” he added.