3D Printing Device Could Build Moon Base from Lunar Dust
Future astronauts might end up living in a moon base created largely from lunar dust and regolith, if a giant 3-D printing device can work on the lunar surface. The print-on-demand technology, known as D-Shape, could save on launch and transportation costs for manned missions to the moon. But the concept must first prove itself in exploratory tests funded by the European Space Agency (ESA).
D-Shape has created full-size sandstone buildings on Earth by using a 3-D printing process similar to how inkjet printers work. It adds a special inorganic binder to sand so that it can build a structure from the bottom up, one layer at a time. The device raises its printer head by just 5 to 10 millimeters for each layer, moving from side to side on horizontal beams as well as up and down on four metal frame columns.
Finished structures end made out of a marble-like material that’s superior to certain types of cement. The buildings do not require iron reinforcing. Such a concept might help future lunar colonists live off the land, as well as provide thick-walled structures that protect against solar storms or micrometeorites. D-Shape offers the added attraction of having a somewhat straightforward building process that does not require huge amounts of construction machinery or many robot laborers.
Space agencies have already begun testing other technologies meant to mine water and oxygen from the lunar regolith. NASA scientists have also played with possible recipes for a sort of lunar concrete based on moon dust.
Image: This 2-meter-tall gazebo was built with D-shape 3-D printing technology. The monolithic sandstone structure was made of about 200 thin layers and was designed to look like a micro-organism called Radiolaria. The structure in the background, overhead, is the printing device.