Building a lunar base with 3D printing
February 1, 2013
Setting up a lunar base could be made much simpler by using a 3D printer to build it from local materials.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”