Lunar building block
Credit: ESA–G. Porter

3D printing on the Moon is getting a boost thanks to demonstration work by the European Space Agency.

For example, a 1.5 ton block has been 3D printed using simulated lunar dust. The structure spotlights the feasibility of constructing a Moon base using local materials.

The structure was produced using a binding salt as ‘ink’; its design is based on a hollow closed-cell structure – combining strength with low weight, similar to bird bones.

3D printing is gaining traction as a technique of choice for establishing Moon base structures.
Credit: LIQUIFER Systems Group 2018/René Waclavicek

 

The block was made during an initial feasibility project on lunar 3D printing. ESA has subsequently investigated other types of lunar 3D printing, including solar sintering and ceramics.

Setting up a lunar base could be made much simpler by using a 3D printer to build it from local materials.

Home away from home

While studying lunar base concepts, ESA ran a competition, asking: what would you 3D print on the Moon, to make it feel like home?

Like real flowers and plants, their 3D printed equivalents would be aromatic, to freshen the air, and perform the work of an air recycling unit changing carbon dioxide to oxygen. They would also ‘grow’ as each plant would be made up of smaller components that could be rearranged or added to over time, as if growing in nature.
Credit: Helen Schell

Responses came from all across the globe, two winners have been selected, both with ideas linked to nature.

The adult category was won by Helen Schell from the UK, proposing a ‘magic Moon garden’, printed from recycled colored plastics. “This is an idea for a colorful carpet of interchangeable color and design, which can be moved and the scale changed wherever you want to site it in your lunar habitat.”

Plant pot for the Moon.
Credit: Judith de Santiago

The under 18 category was won by Judith de Santiago, a 17-year-old student from Madrid, Spain, who presented a dodecahedron (or 12-sided) plant pot – ideally for a real plant – that also incorporates symbols of distant Earth. “The blue curves of the bottom represent the waves of the sea,” she explains, “and the green badge with a small plant located at the centre, inspired by Disney’s movie WALL·E, represents the Earth in general.”

Lunar base made with 3D printing as viewed by architectural firm Foster + Partners.
Credit: ESA/Foster + Partners

Cutting Earth resupply

Global space agencies are considering a lunar base as a possible next step in human space exploration, explains Advenit Makaya, overseeing the lunar 3D printing study.

“3D printing is one of the key building blocks for future space settlement, if we can find ways to make the stuff we need as we go along, rather than rely on costly resupply from Earth,” Makaya adds. “And the Moon, at just a few days away from Earth, represents an ideal test case. Nobody else has run such a detailed system level study, looking at lunar 3D printing of everything from large infrastructure and building blocks down to tiny electronic components.”

The “Conceiving a Lunar Base Using 3D Printing Technologies” project was run by the URBAN consortium led by Germany’s OHB System AG, with extreme environment specialist Comex in France, Austrian space design company Liquifer Systems Group and spacecraft structure manufacturer Sonaca Space in Germany.

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