Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/01/31/esa_lunar_base_3d_printing/

ESA proposes 3D printing on the moon

Instant lunar base, just add moon rock

By Richard Chirgwin

Posted in Science, 31st January 2013 23:24 GMT

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.

More here and at the ESA here. ®