London-based architectural firm Foster + Partners – in partnership with a consortium set up by the European Space Agency (ESA) – is exploring the possibility of using 3D printing to build a habitable structure on Earth’s satellite.
The project would entail transporting a robotic 3D printer to the moon, which would then complete the construction process using the moon’s soil – known as regolith – as building material. Some of the smaller and lighter components of the base would be constructed on Earth.
“The base is first unfolded from a tubular module that can be transported by space rocket,” Foster + Partners explains on their website. “An inflatable dome then extends from one end of this cylinder to provide a support structure for construction. Layers of regolith are then built up over the dome by a robot-operated 3D printer to create a protective shell.”
The concept has already been tested. Using a massive D-Shape 3D printer and simulated regolith, the consortium built a 1.5-ton block of the building material in a vacuum chamber to simulate lunar conditions.
The test determined that the process would indeed be possible. According to the Daily Mail, experts are saying a lunar base could be ready for humans to move into within the next 40 years.
Here are more renderings of the Foster + Partners design as well as photos from the ESA’s test project:
The 1.5-ton mockup of the moon base building material. Photo courtesy ESA.
The D-Shape 3D printer, used in the test project. Photo courtesy ESA.