A multi-dome moon base being constructed. The top left and middle domes are completed, while you can see robots in process of building the top and bottom-right domes. Visualization courtesy European Space Agency
The European Space Agency wants to 3-D print a moon base.
One of the biggest challenges for space colonists is just how expensive (in terms of energy) it is to get supplies off of Planet Earth. Until we get a space elevator, it’s going to stay that way. One solution is to send as little as possible up there. When it comes to building a moon base, couldn’t we just make it out of rock? After all, the moon is already made of rocks.
By using the Moon’s loose rocks (regolith) as a base for concrete, robots based on Monolite’s D-Shape 3-D printer will be able to build up a structure that uses as many local materials as possible. The idea is that with as shell made of moon rocks to act as a shield against micro-meteors and similar hazards, the living quarters for moon colonists could be inflatable envelopes protected by these shells.
A D-Shape printer in action. The ones on the moon would be more mobile. Photo courtesy European Space Agency
3-D printing concrete in a vacuum is very, very different from printing it on earth. The teams have been experimenting with simulated moon rock material in vacuum chambers to find methods of construction that work. The problem being that concrete relies on applying liquids and unprotected liquids boil away when there’s no atmosphere. They discovered that by inserting the 3-D printer’s nozzle underneath the regolith, capillary action kept enough liquid in place to set properly.
This 1.5-ton building block was produced as a demonstration using simulated moon regolith harvested from a volcano in Italy. The honeycomb-like pattern enables strength while keeping the structure relatively light. Photo courtesy European Space Agency
The ESA aren’t the only ones looking at 3-D printed moon bases. In 2011, NASA released images of what it might look like to send architectural rovers to the moon to lay down the foundations of a moon base before people even got near. Let the robots do the construction in high hazard, painstaking work, and then humans can waltz in once the environment is ready.
It’s kind of amazing how quickly we’ve gone from “this is crazy” to “this is a probably a thing that will happen”.
Lunar base made with 3-D printing. The base consists of a cylinder that opens out into a inflatable dome. The multi-dome base seen at the top of the post is simply a collection of these modular units. Visualization courtesy European Space Agency