Nov.7, 2014

Could astronauts one day be printing rather than building a base on the Moon? In 2013 the European Space Agency (ESA), working with its industrial partner renowned architects Foster + Partners, proved that 3D printing using lunar soil was feasible in principle. Since then, work continues to investigate the technique.

Foster + Partners has designed a lunar base to house four people, which can offer protection from meteorites, gamma radiation and high temperature fluctuations. The base is first unfolded from a tubular module that can be transported by space rocket. 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 shielding against radiation was measured, providing important inputs for next-stage designs.

To ensure strength while keeping the amount of binding "ink" to a minimum, the shell is made up of a hollow closed cellular structure similar to foam. The geometry of the structure is close to our natural biological systems. Soon the Agency is due to investigate another lunar 3D printing method, harnessing concentrated sunlight to melt regolith rather than using a binding liquid.

But how might lunar 3D printing one day be used in practice to 3D-print an entire a lunar base? ESA and Foster+Partners released a video on Thursday illustrating the design factors that steered them in their work. They have chosen the rim of Shackleton Crater at the lunar south pole as the base location. ESA explains that 'the Moon's rotation is such that the Sun only grazes its poles at low angles. The result is a near-constant 'peak of eternal light' along the rim of Shackleton Crater, beside regions of permanent shadow. Building in the vicinity of such a site would offer plentiful solar power, and relief from the extremes of heat and cold found across the rest of the Moon.'

In October 2014 more than 350 experts came together for a two-day Additive Manufacturing for Space Applications workshop at ESA's ESTEC technical centre in Noordwijk, the Netherlands. The idea is to bring these expert together to discuss how 3D printing could be used to transform the way the space industry operates, and they have also begun preparing common standards for its use.

ESA showcased a 3D printed deployment mechanism for satellite solar panels. This prototype titanium version, by Thales Alenia Space, is called the Adel'Light, being a lightweight version of their existing Adele mechanism. The 3D-printed version uses 80% less mass than the original design and the spiral hinges in the foreground can only produced as a single part in any other way.

"As a practice, we are used to designing for extreme climates on Earth and exploiting the environmental benefits of using local, sustainable materials," remarked Xavier De Kestelier of Foster + Partners Specialist Modelling Group. "Our lunar habitation follows a similar logic."

"3D printing offers a potential means of facilitating lunar settlement with reduced logistics from Earth," added Scott Hovland of ESA's human spaceflight team.

Posted in 3D Printing Applications

Maybe you also like:


Leave a comment:

Your Name:


Subscribe us to Feeds twitter facebook   

About provides the latest news about 3D printing technology and 3D printers. We are now seven years old and have around 1.5 million unique visitors per month.

News Archive