After 40 years of absence, our companion lures again. This time there are advanced plans for a lunar base. Space agency ESA is also involved. Will 3D printing finally fulfill our long-cherished dream of human habitation on another celestial body?
Building a base on the moon seems like an insane plan at first glance. For example, for concrete you need water, a compound that is extremely scarce on the moon, not to mention limestone, which comes from fossilized remains of aquatic organisms. A construction crew has been building for weeks and must be provided with water and food. Appearances are deceptive, however, due to a technical breakthrough achieved about a decade ago.
It appears that the abundant lunar regolite or lunar dust, a layer of powder several meters thick, can be used with a microwave in moon concrete. lunarcrete be changed . The loose particles bond together and form a solid material. About what happens in an SLS 3D printer.
ESA uses a more traditional system. An industrial consortium led by the European space agency ESA, with the visionary 3D house developer Enrico Dini as the best-known participant, has succeeded in developing a 3D printer that can process moon dust into more or less habitable shelters. This printer does work with some materials that are not available on the moon, such as magnesium oxide and an unspecified salt solution, in which the scarce water is probably the solvent. ESA plans to solve the water problem by building the moon base in Shackleton crater at the south pole of the moon. There must be small supplies of water ice in the eternal darkness of the Shackleton crater floor. Another attractive side of the Shackleton Crater is that there is a “peak of eternal light” here. Not a superfluous luxury on the moon, where around two weeks of darkness alternate with two weeks of sun and so would require enormous amounts of batteries. The house proposed by ESA could be built in about a week.
A more elegant method is of course to make structures without water, by melting regolith with only bundles of sunlight. The German artist Markus Kayser did exactly that, only then with Sahara sand. Indeed, according to ESA, their next project will use a beam of concentrated sunlight . Indeed, this would drastically reduce the amount of material to be carried from Earth. The long-cherished dream of only working with lunar material comes within reach.
1. LA Lawrence and TT Meek, Microwave Sintering of Lunar Soil: Properties, Theory, and Practice, ASCE, 2005
2. Building a lunar base with 3D printing, ESA, 2013
3. 3D printing a lunar base, ESA, 2014