Mar.5, 2013

Last month, the European Space Agency (ESA) was teaming up with its industrial partner renowned architects Foster + Partners to test the feasibility of 3D printing using lunar soil and to build a lunar base.

It seems that NASA has also got a similar idea: using existing resources on the moon to build those structures. Space architects Tomas Rousek, Katarina Eriksson and Dr. Ondrej Doule have unveiled their vision for a lunar module which shows the potential of 3D printing technology from NASA.

3D printed moon base SinterHab

Both bases would be located near the Shackleton crater, close to the Moon's south pole, where sunlight (and thus solar energy) is nearly constant, and both use lunar dust as basic building material. But NASA's idea is slightly different.

Due to the unique properties of the lunar soil and the absence of anatmosphere, NASA's modules would be constructed from lunar soil by microwave sintering and contour crafting making use of NASA JPL robotics system. The tech is called SinterHab.

3D printed moon base SinterHab

Microwave sintering creates a solid building material similar to ceramics, purely by microwave heating of the dust. When the temperature is maintained below the melting point, particles bond together and the building blocks for the lunar habitat can be created.

The SinterHab construction method is based on the MS-FACS. Scientists at NASA JPL have proposed the Microwave Sinterator Freeform Additive Construction System (MS-FACS), a large six-legged multi-purpose robot called ATHLETE holding microwave printer head that would create walls and domes. The lunar dust would be excavated and manipulated by Chariot rover in bulldozer configuration and then fed to printing head of ATHLETE. This would cover inflated membranes made of multiple layers of Kevlar, Mylar and other materials. The prototype of the ATHLETE robot has been tested in Arizona Desert for various tasks, such as moving habitats and using different tools.

Space architect Tomas Rousek with NASA ATHLETE Robot

In the future, we could build structures of entire cities on the surface of the Moon by using solar energy. With SinterHab we don't need to send glue or other binding agents from Earth and thus can significantly decrease mass, costs and environmental impact. Furthermore, the hardening of the surrounding surface of the base would help mitigate the hazards of contamination from lunar dust, which is highly abrasive and harmful to both astronauts and equipment.

Project SinterHab was initiated at the International Space University by space architects Tomas Rousek, Katarina Eriksson and Dr. Ondrej Doule in collaboration with Richard Rieber from NASA JPL in 2009. London-based space architect Tomas Rousek, director of A-ETC.net, then carried out an internship with the NASA Habitation team at NASA JPL in Los Angeles where he worked with Scott Howe, a co-author of this 3D printing robotics system. The design of SinterHab was then presented to the scientific community in the leading aerospace journal Acta Astronautica in 2012. Scientists from NASA JPL have used SinterHab as an example in proposal for funding the development of this microwave sintering technology. Sinterhab 2.0 is currently being developed in international collaboration.

 


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Posted in 3D Printing Technology

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