Building a Moon base with 3D printing

Lunar base made with 3D printing

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07 February 2013

Setting up a base on the Moon could be made much simpler and cheaper by building it from material found on the Moon, instead of transporting everything from Earth. One possibility that ESA and its industrial partners are looking at is to use a revolutionary new process, known as 3D printing, to create a base from lunar soil.

3D printing requires a special printing machine, supplied by UK company Monolite. This can construct a solid object, by printing layer upon layer of material. ESA’s lunar base study uses a printing machine fitted with nozzles that spray a type of glue solution onto a sand-like building material, which is similar to lunar soil.

1.5 tonne building block produced as a demonstration

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“First, we needed to mix the simulated lunar material with magnesium oxide. This turns it into ‘paper’ we can print with,” explained Enrico Dini of Monolite. “Then we apply a binding salt which converts material to a stone-like solid.”

Tests have shown that the process can be changed so that it works on the Moon where liquids usually boil away because there is no air. Further study will be needed to learn how to control lunar dust – which is dangerous to breathe in. Extreme temperatures on the Moon are also a potential problem, since 3D printing works best at room temperature. The lunar poles may be most suitable as they have smallest temperature range.