Jan 4, 2016 | By Kira

While Matt Damon’s turn in The Martian made life on Mars seem downright cool, the European Space Agency (ESA) wants us to imagine a different, and potentially more realistic route to outer-spatial real estate: Lunar Living. In a recent international symposium called ‘Moon 2020-2030—A New Era of Coordinated Human and Robotic Exploration’, the ESA proposed a significant push towards prioritizing the moon, rather than Mars, as humanity’s next deep-space destination, and it believes this will be possible within the next 15 years thanks to a 3D printed, life-sustaining ‘lunar village’.

Illustration of proposed 3D printed lunar village by Foster + Partners

NASA has made no secrets of its plans to send humans to Mars via an asteroid redirect mission between 2025 and 2030. The American space agency has turned to additive manufacturing technology to 3D print end-use parts for its rocket engines, as well as to design 3D printed space suits and 3D printed ice habitats capable of sustaining human and plant life. However, the ESA believes that NASA might be jumping the laser-gun with this plan, as not only is the moon closer, but it is the only planet humans have actually landed on before.

“Abandoned by man for 43 years, it remains the only planet attainable by human missions with current technology, but remains poorly understood,” said Johann-Dietrich Wörner, ESA Director General. According to him, the moon—and specifically, a human and robot occupied station set up on the moon’s far side—represents an ideal middle ground that will allow humans to explore the Universe beyond the International Space Station, while remaining more realistic in the short term than a full-blown mission to Mars.

“The far side of the moon is very interesting because we could have telescopes looking deep into the Universe [without being effected by transmissions from Earth],” explained Wörner in a BBC interview. “The Americans are looking to go to Mars very soon—and I don’t see how we can do that—before going to Mars we should test what we could do on Mars on the Moon.”

Specifically, he is talking about using large-scale, on-site 3D printers to manufacture life-sustaining habitats out of the planets’ naturally occurring materials. ESA’s materials technology section has already been conduction tests to 3D print construction blocks made from lunar regolith—a substance found on the moon’s surface that is ideal for making concrete. According to Laurent Pambaguian of the materials technology section, 3D printers can produce between 6.5 ft and 11ft (2-3.5 meters) in an hour, meaning that an entire structure could be produced within a week.

Above: D-shape 3D printer. Below: 3D printed, 1.5 tonne building block produced as a demonstration of the 3D printers capabilities on the moon

ESA has been using D-Shape 3D printer to create lunar-base prototypes. It uses a mobile array of 3D printing nozzles that spray a binding-solution onto the sand-like regolith material. The proposal would be to send autonomous robots to 3D print these permanent structures on the moon and have them ready in time for a manned mission as early as 2030.

While NASA’s proposal for 3D printing habitats on Mars is similar, Wörner believes it would be more realistic and safer to test out these practices on the moon, which is only four days away from Earth rather than six months—a crucial time difference in case of emergency.

The ‘Moon Village’ in envisioned as a multinational settlement involving astronauts from various cooperating countries, including Russia and China, and would allow for scientific research, space tourism, and potentially even mining activities. The 3D printed houses would allow humans to live for extended periods of time, gathering invaluable knowledge into life in deep space, and eventually serving as a staging point for launching future missions to Mars.

Additionally, the lunar base would serve as a replacement for the ISS, which has been housing humans in Lower Earth Orbit since 2000, and originally demonstrated the importance of international partnerships in its development, assembly, operations and effective utilization. “We should have international cooperation, without any limitations, with any countries of the world,” said Wörner. “We have enough Earthly problems between different nations – space can bridge these Earthly problems and the Moon seems to be to be a good proposal.”

Despite the differences between the ESA and NASA’s plans, the two are still working closely to advance efforts in human deep-space exploration. The ESA is providing the European Service Module to be used in conjunction with NASA’s next spaceship, the Orion crew module—which just so happens to contain 3D printed engine components.

It may be another ten years or so before we know whether Mars or the Moon will be our next home-base, but one thing we can say for sure is that wherever we end up, we’ll have 3D printing technology to thank.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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rambo wrote at 1/10/2016 6:38:31 AM:

In 2000 the plan for the moon was to be 2015. 2015 is 2030 2030 will be postponed to 2060. We should not plan to send human to the moon. We should plan to send a robot colony to start a new industry there. Maybe then, human would have a reason to go.

nedzad wrote at 1/5/2016 12:36:23 PM:

who will provide enough oxigen?

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