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Building a lunar base with 3D printing

3printed-lunar-base-512x304Renowned architects Foster + Partners have joined with ESA to test the feasibility of 3D printing using simulated lunar soil (regolith).

The architects devised a weight-bearing “catenary” dome design with a cellular structured wall to shield against micrometeoroids and space radiation, incorporating a pressurized inflatable to shelter astronauts. A hollow closed-cell structure — reminiscent of bird bones — provides a good combination of strength and weight.

1.5 ton building block (credit: ESA)

The base’s design was guided by the properties of 3D-printed lunar soil, with a 1.5 ton building block produced as a demonstration.

“3D printing offers a potential means of facilitating lunar settlement with reduced logistics from Earth,” said Scott Hovland of ESA’s human spaceflight team.

“As a practice, we are used to designing for extreme climates on Earth and exploiting the environmental benefits of using local, sustainable materials,” said Xavier De Kestelier of Foster + Partners Specialist Modelling Group. “Our lunar habitation follows a similar logic.”

Printing process

The UK’s Monolite supplied the D-Shape printer, with a mobile printing array of nozzles on a 6 meter frame to spray a binding solution onto a sand-like building material.

Multi-dome base being constructed (credit: ESA)

3D printouts are built up layer by layer — the company more typically uses its printer to create sculptures and is working on artificial coral reefs to help preserve beaches from energetic sea waves.

“First, we needed to mix the simulated lunar material with magnesium oxide. This turns it into ‘paper’ we can print with,” explained Monolite founder Enrico Dini.

“Then for our structural ‘ink’ we apply a binding salt which converts material to a stone-like solid.

“Our current printer builds at a rate of around 2 m per hour, while our next-generation design should attain 3.5 m per hour, completing an entire building in a week.”

D-Shape printer (credit: ESA)

Source: KurzweilAI with permission

One Response to Building a lunar base with 3D printing

  1. Amara Angelica says:

    Excerpt from a Bloom Skype chatroom discussion on Feb. 2, 2013:

    [2:16:14 AM] Amara D. Angelica: Building a lunar base with 3D printing
    [2:16:54 AM] Amara D. Angelica: I’d like to invite participants here to post comments on that page.
    [2:17:00 AM] max_gigawatt: good for bricks at least
    [2:17:21 AM] Amara D. Angelica: and 1.5 ton building blocks, as noted
    [2:17:41 AM] max_gigawatt: if glass can be made, a sort of “cocoon maker” could be built for tunnels.
    [2:17:50 AM] Amara D. Angelica: good idea.
    [2:18:37 AM] max_gigawatt: it could all be tested here on Earth
    [2:18:53 AM] max_gigawatt: there are plenty of folks who would benefit
    [2:19:08 AM] Amara D. Angelica: right, economy of scale too
    [2:19:38 AM] max_gigawatt: I always like to find Earth-side uses to pay for tech development.
    [2:19:47 AM] Amara D. Angelica: ad copy: LIVE ON THE MOON … or the next-best thing
    [2:20:17 AM] Amara D. Angelica: Rigth, “let the terrans pay for it” is my motto
    [2:20:25 AM] max_gigawatt: :)
    [2:20:59 AM] max_gigawatt: groundhogs have more dollars than sense
    [2:21:18 AM] Amara D. Angelica: eskimos would understand…..
    [2:22:00 AM] Amara D. Angelica: Wait, let’s contact some Alaska natives and invite them to co-design this!
    [2:22:24 AM] Amara D. Angelica: So of rumored Moon ice…..
    [2:22:32 AM] max_gigawatt: the tunnels and domes of igloos are somewhat similar
    [2:22:48 AM] max_gigawatt: have you seen the video of the guy making a bowl with a sand-fusing robot?
    [2:23:04 AM] Amara D. Angelica: the one if the desert?
    [2:23:17 AM] max_gigawatt: yes, the Sahara I think it was
    [2:23:32 AM] max_gigawatt: all packs up into one suitcase
    [2:24:05 AM] max_gigawatt: or maybe I’m conflating 2 of his creations?
    [2:25:01 AM] Amara D. Angelica:
    [2:25:51 AM] max_gigawatt: for things which are hard to “print”, lunarcrete might be used. according to a guy I used to know who researched it for NASA, about 98% of the water can be reclaimed.
    [2:25:54 AM] Amara D. Angelica: really good idea
    [2:26:09 AM] Amara D. Angelica: composition?
    [2:26:29 AM] max_gigawatt: he used NASA’s official regoligth simulant
    [2:26:47 AM] Amara D. Angelica: ok, we’ve got our windows…now just need to work on heat and water…..
    [2:26:49 AM] max_gigawatt: it’s mostly metal oxides, just the thing for cement
    [2:27:31 AM] max_gigawatt: heat and cold you can store underground
    [2:27:39 AM] Amara D. Angelica: there’s a big discussion of this over on KurzweilAI:
    [2:28:32 AM | Edited 2:28:47 AM] max_gigawatt: do you know about Keith’s former project, Stratosolar? it stored massive amounts of heat in firebrick, heated by concentrated light.
    [2:29:03 AM] Amara D. Angelica: oh right, another good idea
    [2:29:59 AM] Amara D. Angelica: i’d like to post this discussion, with your permission, on
    [2:30:16 AM] max_gigawatt: Keith also has talked about a great way of delivering liquids to the Moon
    [12/14/2012 6:05:56 PM] Keith Henson: you fly a tank of liquid into a hole with a breakup bar across the hole and a fast acting door, slam the door before the gas can escape.
    [2:32:09 AM] max_gigawatt: also works for solids
    [2:32:35 AM] max_gigawatt: it’s part of the area known as “crashportation”
    wow, sounds like a great TV show idea
    [2:33:44 AM] max_gigawatt: hehe, yep
    [2:34:34 AM] max_gigawatt: a little harder to simulate on Earth, but doable with some of NASA’s facilities… … just have to scale down the water tanks.
    In fact, tanks are not really required if the water can be frozen to liquid nitrogen temperatures… it will barely evaporate if merely kept in the shade. ice is very hard and strong at those temperatures, might even be gun launched from Earth. I’d think that a core of seawater with a freshwater shell might be best, because the trace elements in seawater will be very valuable on the Moon.
    The ice blocks could have rings of copper and/or aluminum frozen in to assist with electromagnetic launch.

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