3D printing on the Moon? It may not be too long before organisations like NASA and the ESA are using robots to construct Moon bases using 3D printers.
The advent of 3D printing is one of the more exciting technologies to develop over the past few years. In a very short space of time, the tech has gone from prototype units in laboratories to professional and consumer-grade systems in homes, schools and workplaces across the globe.
3D printing may not be long solely for this world, however, as organisations like NASA and the ESA are set to launch the tech into space.
Building a Moon base using 3D printing
Ever since Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin touched down on the dusty lunar surface in 1969, people have always been looking for ways to return - and stay. With new manufacturing techniques, a Moon base may not remain in the pages of science fiction for long.
Space organisations NASA and the ESA have recently outlined the advantages of using 3D printing to manufacture a Moon base, as opposed to more traditional pre-assembled habitats.
Industrial partners working the ESA investigated the possibility of using in-situ resources - those materials already available on the lunar surface - to create building blocks and eventually a dome. It's quite easy to see why 3D printing is so useful here, as similar buildings have already been manufactured on earth using the technologies.
Scott Hovland from the ESA human space flight team noted that the new possibilities this manufacturing method opens up are available for consideration by other space agencies, including NASA. In effect, they can be considered as part of the larger exploration strategy.
There's more to this method than just 3D printing, however, as WIRED reported.
Unmanned Ground Vehicles
To overcome the challenges of building in the extreme conditions of the lunar surface, WIRED explained how a technology called SinterHab, the product of collaboration between space architects and Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineers, could leave the task up to unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs).
These robots, taking the form of giant mechanical spiders, would use microwaves to heat nanoparticles of iron within the lunar soil (regolith) to around 1,200 and 1,500 degrees Celsius. This means there's no need to bring some sort of binding agent up from Earth.
A 3D printed space odyssey
With 3D prototyping technologies available now on Earth, scientists can put many of these innovative new ideas to the test before they're strapped to a booster and sent to the surface of the Moon. It would appear as if 3D printing on the Moon is only a matter of time.