Apr 29, 2016 | By Alec

At the beginning of the year, the European Space Agency proposed a more realistic alternative to NASA’s ambitious Mission to Mars: a permanent 3D printed settlement on the Moon. This would, they argued, be a logical next step for humans in low Earth orbit and would pave the way for follow-up missions. That plan was more than just speculation, as ESA representatives reiterated their convictions during the 32nd Space Symposium earlier this month. This village, which would have to be 3D printed from lunar soil, could act as a base for science, businesses, mining and even tourism, they said.

These European ambitions were defended by Johann-Dietrich Wörner, director general of the European Space Agency (ESA) during the symposium. During a session entitled ‘New Generation Space Leaders Panel: The Future of Human Spaceflight’, Wörner reiterated his previous statements about a potential moon village. “I think we should go first to the moon and then further on,” he said. “I would not call Mars the ultimate goal. I am quite sure humans will go further.”

Though village sounds a bit backwards and unprofessional, Wörner said the term was consciously chosen to help people comprehend the outpost’s purpose. “A village is something where different people are gathering with different capabilities, different opportunities, and then they build a community," Wörner said. "It’s not one village with some houses, a church. But for me, it’s also a stepping-stone, a test bed ... to go further, for instance, to Mars and beyond.”

As Wörner previously argued, this Moon Village would also be the logical successor to the ISS. “Right now we have the Space Station as a common international project, but it won’t last forever,” he argued. “My ideal only deals with the core concept of a village: people working and living together in the same place. And this place would be on the Moon. We would like to combine the capabilities of different spacefaring nations, with the help of robots and astronauts.” These could thus include specialists from various fields, even from mining and tourism.”

From such a solid base, further space exploration missions could be more effectively realized. After all, like NASA, ESA is also dreaming of Mars. “But today’s technology isn’t prepared for this trip yet. For example, we must develop countermeasures against cosmic radiation […]. And we have to learn how to endure longer periods of time in space,” Wörner argued. And that is where the moon comes in. The village could even act as a planetary defense system, to protect the earth from hazards such as comets and asteroids.

As ESA revealed in a new brochure, the base also provides various economic opportunities – particularly for the exploitation of lunar resources for sustaining human surface exploration. Furthermore, the Moon is also thought to hold valuable clues about the history of the solar system, which can be more effectively unearthed at a permanent base. “[Those clues] could be preserved in previously unexplored areas, such as the poles, the highlands and the far side of the moon,” the brochure explains.

But so far, no competitive proposals for a Moon Village are finished, while no formal decision by a group of countries has been made (which did happen for the ISS). “It’s more an understanding of many nations to go together to the moon,” Wörner said. Discussions about locations are forthcoming, after which nations could sign on. As both the Russians and the Chinese are already planning lunar missions, they might be willing to join in. The scheme will also be discussed during talks with various space agencies over the coming weeks, who will meet to discuss the future of the ISS.

However, ESA does plan to take a leading role in establishing the moon village and 3D printing is expected to play a big role in that process. ESA has therefore already been experimenting with the 3D printing of permanent structures using regolith, a common lunar soil. According to Laurent Pambaguian, from the ESA materials technology department, they could 3D print lunar soil structures in about a week, at a rate of up to 11 ft. per hour. “Terrestrial 3D printing technology has produced entire structures. Our industrial team investigated if it could similarly be employed to build a lunar habitat,” Pambaguian explained.

But one thing seems certain: this project is growing into much more than just speculation. “The recent talk of a Moon Village certainly generated a lot of positive energy in Europe,” said NASA’s Kathy Laurini. “The timing is right to get started on the capabilities which allow Europe to meet its exploration objectives and ensure it remains a strong partner as humans begin to explore the solar system.”



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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