Saturday, February 8, 2014

European Space Agency Working on 3D Printing Moon Structures

FINALLY!  Ever since I’ve been interested in 3D printing I have said that we should use this technology to improve space research.  The European Space Agency (ESA) has been working with a London-based architectural firm, Foster & Partners, to test out the feasibility of using a 3D printer to create structures in space. 

The firm has taken the concept to a whole new level, which may make it FAR more practical to build structures on the moon in the very near future.  They are working on a 3D printer that will use local moon soil rather than the normal thermoplastic or other materials that are found on the Earth.  This will dramatically reduce the amount of materials that need to be shuttled from the Earth to the Moon for construction, which means it is much more affordable.

The scientists working on the project are testing a robotic printer that is on a motorized rover.  It will print over an inflatable dome, which will be the base.  The design they are working on now will house four people.
It is a weight-bearing catenary dome, with cellular structured walls.  These walls are designed to shield the occupants against micrometeoroids, as well as space radiation.   

The 3D printer itself was developed by Enrico Dini, who says “Our current printer builds at a rate of around 2 meters per hours, while our next-generation design should reach 3.5 meters per hour.  We can complete an entire building in a week.” 

Imagine for a moment the practical applications here.  Sending a 3D printer up to the moon to begin creating structures that can house 4 people each.  Since it is using the sand that is already on the moon, you don’t have to keep sending the extremely heavy building materials.  It can be solar powered, so that won’t be an issue either.  *If I’m a hotel owner, I’m salivating at the tourism opportunities for the next 15-20 years!*

The lunar sand can be ‘printed’ into place, and then hardened into place using a binding salt.  This salt makes the sand as hard as stone, which is important for keeping the structure safe.  

This is currently being tested inside a vacuum chamber, where they are already successfully printing various wall sections. 

What do you think about this incredible technology?  Post in the comments below. 

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