Next up for 3D printing: a moonbase?

The European Space Agency and others are looking into creating an inflatable moon dome that can house four people while protecting them from meteorites, gamma radiation, and more.

A mockup of a lunar base made with 3D printing. Foster + Partners

We've put a man on the moon. Perhaps setting up a 3D moonbase will be next.

The European Space Agency (ESA) and architecture and design firm Foster + Partners are jumping on the 3D-printing bandwagon and exploring the feasibility of using three-dimensional printing to create buildings on the moon.

Engineering teams from both parties, and additional partners, are investigating the properties of lunar soil, known as regolith, to see if the material could be used to print "bricks" for a moonbase, thus solving the sticky issue of transporting construction materials from our planet. Previous research from Washington State University and NASA has suggested that moon rocks could be used to print useful objects like tools or replacement parts.

Here's how the plan works in theory. A capsule, housing the 3D printer, is sent down to the moon's surface. An inflatable dome that can house four people springs up from a tubular module as a base, and the robot-operated 3D printer builds up layers of regolith to cover the inflatable shape with a protective shell.

Once complete, the moonbase imagined by ESA and Foster + Partners should offer protection from meteorites, gamma radiation, and temperature fluctuations. The planned site for the new building is at the moon's southern pole.

Preliminary tests of this concept are already under way, as researchers have used simulated lunar soil to create a 1.5-ton building block mockup in a vacuum chamber to echo typical lunar conditions. Perhaps in the future this will be a way to afford further explorations of the moon while offering astronauts additional protection.

We have, of course, already seen some unusual uses for 3D printing -- everything from meat and printable robots to 3D replicas of yourself .

Janjaap Ruijssenaars of Amsterdam-based Universe Architecture has created the concept of a 3D-printed house created from slot-in components that can be printed and then reinforced at otherwise-weak joints. In addition, Studio Softkill recently announced a new concept design called Protohome that uses printed, fibrous pieces to construct a "web" rather than a solid mass when building a home.

Once assembled, inflated domes are covered with a layer of 3D-printed lunar regolith by robots to help protect the occupants against space radiation and micrometeoroids. Foster + Partners
This story originally appeared on SmartPlanet.

 

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