Last year, the European Space Agency (ESA) made history by landing the first ever spacecraft — called Philae — on a comet.
The ESA’s next big mission for the history books: Building the first Moon habitat located in the Shackleton crater — a 2.6-miles hole at the lunar south pole.
On June 7, ESA released a video describing how it plans to use cutting-edge technology such as 3D printers and inflatable habitats to accomplish this, with the goal of supporting up to four astronauts at a time inside the shelter.
What’s more, the future head of ESA, Johann-Dietrich Wörner, says the agency wants to start construction on the habitat, which it’s calling “Lunarville,” by as early as 2024.
Europe has never soft-landed anything on the Moon before. Only the US, USSR, and China can lay claim to that feat. ESA hopes to change that, however, and in 2018 it’s planning to send its Lunar Lander to the Moon’s south pole. The mission will be a precursor to ESA’s bigger construction plans.
Then, provided enough funding is gathered over the next nine years, ESA will send another spacecraft to the lunar south pole to begin construction. First, ESA will deploy an inflatable dome on the surface.
With the dome in place, 3D-printing robots will then build an outer layer around the dome from lunar dirt and dust that will protect the dome and future human inhabitants from cosmic radiation and meteor impacts.
Scientists are already testing 3D printers out for this task. In 2013, a UK-based 3D-printing company called Monolite, designed this 1.5-ton structure (pictured below) from material similar to lunar dust.
“First, we needed to mix the simulated lunar material with magnesium oxide,” Enrico Dini, founder of Monolite, said in an ESA statement. “This turns it into ‘paper’ we can print with.”
While construction on Lunarville could begin as early as 2024, ESA still has major steps to take before it considers sending astronauts to live in the moon habitat for months at a time.
“A permanent shuttle service needs to be established in the case of medical emergencies,” Wörner told the online tabloid Mirror.
ESA said that its lunar base could replace the International Space Station as the new base for astronauts to experience life in deep-space. If this turns out to be the case, the astronauts will only get to enjoy zero-gravity somersaults during the two-day trip to the base.
You can check out ESA’s video about Lunarville below:
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.