ESA proposes 3D printing on the moon
Instant lunar base, just add moon rock
One of the challenges with constructing a moon base is the extravagant expenditure needed to boost the necessary materials from Earth. The European Space Agency is now considering an alternative proposal: feeding moon rock to a 3D printer.
Architecture firm Foster + Partners has designed a concept demonstration suggesting it just may be feasible, turning a 1.5-tonne block into a simulated building. Using a 3D printer from UK company Monolite, a mobile printing array of nozzles sprayed materials onto a six meter frame using simulated lunar material.
The material was mixed with magnesium oxide to create a “‘paper’ we can print with”, says Monolite’s founder Enrico Dini. “Then for our structural ‘ink’ we apply a binding salt which converts material to a stone-like solid.”
Printed moon base demo design by Foster + Patners. Source: ESA
Another challenge was demonstrating that the process could work in a vacuum without the liquid boiling away into space. In the simulated environment, “we inserted the 3D printer nozzle beneath the regolith layer. We found small 2 mm-scale droplets stay trapped by capillary forces in the soil, meaning the printing process can indeed work in vacuum,” says Giovanni Cesaretti of Italian space research firm Alta, which also took part in the ESA project.
The project simulated lunar regolith by using basalt from a volcano in central Italy which, the researchers say, closely resembled the kind of material available on the moon.
Re: more techo-wanking
Repeating it might not be enough. You probably need to address the points that (a) this article indicates that liquid isn't that important and (b) there may be enough liquid on the moon for what we need to do anyway.
I do like your idea of a CNC router, but I think 3D printing will also be useful, and I'm not sure why you seem to be so annoyed by it. Of course there's hype, but behind most hype there is at least something worth talking about.
Re: more techo-wanking
No, it's not a fashionable bandwagon, it's a potential solution to a lot of things. 3D printing, like, say, QR codes or cloud computing or electricity, is a remarkable and general-purpose technology looking for problems to solve. What's wrong in that? Nobody thinks it will solve all problems. This is not a Star Trek replicator. But it's a flexible enough idea that the general principle can be adapted to many different purposes. Some will work, some will not. But it's still ripe for research.
Re: I can see the flaw in the design.
There's probably another hole around the other side where they pump more air in.