3D printers have already been used to build lamps, kitchen tools and working locks. All of this stuff is useful on Earth and uses relatively small desktop printers. The same technology is now being explored to build a base on the moon. The European Space Agency, or ESA, announced plans last week to investigate whether a 3D printer could be used to build a moon habitat. The agency partnered with the architecture firm Foster + Partners for the project.
3D printers work by releasing small amounts of material, like rubber or plastic, layer-by-layer until the full object is formed.
In this case, the material used would be a combination of moon dust, soil and broken rock, called regolith, which would be manipulated to form a concrete-like building material.
Foster + Partner’s device would print layers and layers of hardened moon dirt over an inflatable dome designed to shield astronauts from harmful space radiation and tiny meteoroids, according to the ESA. The dome would be sent up by space rocket.
As a demonstration, a 20-foot 3D printer, supplied by Monolite UK, was used on Earth to build a 3,330-pound structure using material that resembles regolith. A binding salt solution was sprayed onto the sand-like material to harden it.
The 3D-printer solves the costly challenge of transporting heavy construction materials to the moon since most of the building ingredients are found right on the dusty orb.”3D printing offers a potential means of facilitating lunar settlement with reduced logistics from Earth,” Scott Hovland of ESA’s human spaceflight team said in a press release.
This isn’t the first time a 3-D printer has been suggested for use in space. An asteroid mining company recently revealed plans to use a 3D printer to turn raw asteroid material into metal parts.
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