May 4, 2017 | By Benedict

European Space Agency (ESA) researchers at the DLR German Aerospace Center facility in Cologne have used concentrated sunlight to 3D print bricks made of simulated moondust. They say that astronauts could use the same technique to print settlements on the Moon.

3D printed brick made from simulated moondust

Although it hasn’t actually been done yet, 3D printing structures on the moon (and Mars) is already a much talked-about subject. That’s partly because there’s already a 3D printer in space, and partly because 3D printing is seen as a sensible option for building a lunar settlement—should humankind ever decide to do so.

Different studies on lunar 3D printing have drawn different conclusions, but many researchers agree that, once a 3D printer has been set up on the Moon, it makes more sense to 3D print structures using local Moon materials. Carrying materials on a launch would cost money, and this long-distance delivery would not be sustainable for large projects or repairs.

Whether you can actually print decent, stable structures using only materials found on the Moon (dust, for the most part) is another matter. Luckily, most experts think you can: back in March, ESA successfully 3D printed test structures using simulated Mars dust, and there have been countless research projects following a similar theme.

The lunar furnace used to make the 3D printed Moon bricks in Germany

ESA has actually just carried out a series of new experiments that involve 3D printing bricks out of simulated moon dust using concentrated sunlight. The commercially available dust is based on terrestrial volcanic material, processed to mimic the composition and grain sizes of actual lunar regolith.

“We took simulated lunar material and cooked it in a solar furnace,” explained ESA materials engineer Advenit Makaya. “This was done on a 3D printer table, to bake successive 0.1 mm layers of moondust at 1000°C. We can complete a 20 x 10 x 3 cm brick for building in around five hours.”

The concentrated sunlight was provided by the solar surface at the DLR German Aerospace Center facility in Cologne, in which 147 curved mirrors focus sunlight into a high-temperature beam to fuse soil grains together. When the sun isn’t shining brightly, xenon lamps—more typically found in cinema projectors—are used instead.

The ESA researchers say the 3D printed bricks are as strong as gypsum, and are now ready for mechanical testing. While bricks aren’t perfect yet—some are warped at the edges, which cool faster than the middle—the researchers think this is a promising sign for lunar settlements.

How a future Moon settlement might look

“We’re looking how to manage [the warped edges], perhaps by occasionally accelerating the printing speed so that less heat accumulates within the brick,” Mayaka said. “But for now this project is a proof of concept, showing that such a lunar construction method is indeed feasible.”

The 3D printed brick study, part of the ESA General Support Technology Programme, will be succeeded by a project called RegoLight, which is backed by the EU Horizon 2020 program.

According to the official RegoLight website, the project’s goal is “to further develop existing 3D printing technologies and methodologies for the purpose of ‘sintering’ and ‘shaping’ lunar regolith…using the sun as an infinite source of energy.” The technology will mainly be used for fabricating buildings.

“Our demonstration took place in standard atmospheric conditions,” Avenit added. “But RegoLight will probe the printing of bricks in representative lunar conditions: vacuum and high-temperature extremes.”



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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SAMPSON wrote at 5/12/2017 12:01:44 AM:

How much iron is in mars sand? Can you sinter it with microwaves maybe?

zekegri wrote at 5/5/2017 9:50:50 PM:

Add high compression with hydraulics to the piece then pop it out of the tool.

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