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Multi-dome base being constructed  (Source: ESA)
A 1.5 tonne building block has already been produced for demonstration purposes

The European Space Agency (ESA) is looking to build a lunar base with 3D printing using local materials on the moon.

The idea behind this project is to offer settlement for astronauts on the moon while using less of Earth's resources to do so.

ESA has partnered with architectural firms like Foster + Partners to see whether lunar soil could be used for a 3D printed lunar base. In fact, Foster + Partners has already designed a "catenary" dome, which is a hollow closed-cell structure complete with a wall that protects against space radiation and micrometeoroids.

A 1.5 tonne building block has already been produced for demonstration purposes, as seen below:

The 3D structures are built layer-by-layer. The lunar material would be combined with magnesium oxide, which turns it into a "paper" to be printed with. Then, for the "ink," a binding salt is added to transform the material into a solid. The architects are trying to create a structure that can handle the harsh weather and environment that the moon can have.

“3D printing offers a potential means of facilitating lunar settlement with reduced logistics from Earth,” said Scott Hovland of ESA’s human spaceflight team.
“The new possibilities this work opens up can then be considered by international space agencies as part of the current development of a common exploration strategy.”

Source: European Space Agency

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By michael67 on 2/1/2013 9:10:02 PM , Rating: 3
Tunnels and caverns are what we want to live in on the Moon

You can forget about that, unlike the earth the moon is just one piece of rock, with some dust on the top from meteor impacts.

I live in Norway, ware because of the rocky country we have to tunnel a lot to build roads.

You literately need +/-500 pounds of explosives to dig one sea container size hole.

Also the drill machines are not the smallest, even do you properly can downsize them a bit.

Next to that explosives is not the first thing i would like to transport with a rocket.

By Amiga500 on 2/2/2013 6:09:10 AM , Rating: 2
You literately need +/-500 pounds of explosives to dig one sea container size hole.

Lets nuke the bastards!

By tng on 2/2/2013 3:24:56 PM , Rating: 2
Lets nuke the bastards!
Didn't you see the latest version of "The Time Machine"?

By drycrust3 on 2/2/2013 8:03:53 PM , Rating: 2
I think the moon is singular.
Also, an A-bomb would make a largish hole with no roof, and you'd end up getting radiation from two directions instead of just one.

By jamescox on 2/3/2013 6:43:13 AM , Rating: 3

It might work to use nuclear power to melt moon rock. It presumably can be melted into a dense, glass-like substance which might be good for lining tunnel walls. It would be interesting if we could design a device to just land, and melt down into the surface, leaving a usable tunnel behind. I don't know if we can expect much in the way of natural caves/caverns to exist.

By JediJeb on 2/3/2013 9:02:28 AM , Rating: 2
I don't know if we can expect much in the way of natural caves/caverns to exist.

Caves on Earth were formed by erosion from water, mostly in areas of limestone, so the likelihood of finding caves on the Moon would be very small. Mars however should have caves to use as natural habitats when we go there.

By maugrimtr on 2/5/2013 7:21:27 AM , Rating: 2
We already know Mars is riddled with lava tubes - we can see collapsed ones across the surface.

Building above ground on the Moon is not that far fetched. It has no atmosphere or weather. Mainly you just need those giant blocks to create an outer shell to protect your internal habitats (which would need to be constructed using Earth materials - i.e. vacuum proof, electronics, plumbing, etc.) from raditation, extreme heat/cold (no atmosphere!), and small meteor impacts.

By JKflipflop98 on 2/3/2013 10:47:21 AM , Rating: 2
Good idea. The moon has a high iron content. Use a nuke reactor to power a smelting process. We can build the heavy machinery from scratch on site. This bubble dome thing would be good for the initial landing site and living quarters until we could get to the point we could build a tunneling machine.

Because really you must be underground. Just a handful of micrometeorites would massacre everyone inside this thing without atmosphere to slow them down. Radiation is another concern that you need a bunch of hard rock to defeat. It's the perfect solution for a long-term habitation.

Plus the real upswing to having a lunar base is that you can use it to launch craft to other places with much less gravity to overcome than on Earth. We could build a bigass railgun and strap an entire rocket on top of it. Use the railgun to launch and then the rocket can use it's fuel to get back home.

By cfaalm on 2/3/2013 1:56:35 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah. Why not build it on the moon first and launch to Mars from there?

By Dr. Kenneth Noisewater on 2/4/2013 11:16:45 AM , Rating: 2
LFTRs and/or concentrated solar perhaps..

By TSS on 2/2/2013 6:47:06 PM , Rating: 3
He still has a point though. I mean if what you say is true then this 3D printing technique wouldn't work either - the dust would be all the material they'd have to work with and i imagine it'd run out pretty fast.

perhaps there's a way to combine the 2 techniques. First have a shaped charge impact the moon to create a crater, maybe use multiple impacts in the same spot to deepen it without widening it (i'll leave it up to nasa how to create a vertical shaft with impacts instead of just a larger crater). Then cap that hole with the 3D printing technique using surrounding dust and maybe even lunar rock loosened up by the impacts.

Once you have a capped hole, you've got the first living quarters for the scientists who can set up mining bots. It might be hard to tunnel through, but the idea here isn't going fast, it's going at all. So have the machine go slow, turn a couple of them on, then return in a couple years while you set up other similar sites for your fully dug out, air tight moon base. Put in a recirculation system, fly in the air from earth, and you've got permenant living quarters for whoever you need to, like large construction crews that'll work on the surface constructing your surface buildings.

It's still a dream sure, but not an unobtainable dream.

By nafhan on 2/4/2013 12:52:41 PM , Rating: 2
Interplanetary tunneling projects would likely be governed by different constraints than terrestrial road construction (i.e. with normal road construction using big expensive equipment is cheaper than the time wasted by using less expensive equipment). Using a bunch of solar powered robots to slowly dig tunnels is a reasonable option. Launch your robots. Wait a few years. Profit.

Anyway, the laser annealing process sounds interesting, too. Probably worthwhile to investigate whether or not tunnels will be the primary living space.

"We shipped it on Saturday. Then on Sunday, we rested." -- Steve Jobs on the iPad launch
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