The European Space Agency asked Foster + Partners to design a moon base; they just unveiled their idea for making it out of a local and sustainable material: moon dust. From BD Online:
"3D printing offers a potential means of facilitating lunar settlement with reduced logistics from Earth,” said Scott Hovland of ESA’s human spaceflight team. "The new possibilities this work opens up can then be considered by international space agencies as part of the current development of a common exploration strategy."
“As a practice, we are used to designing for extreme climates on Earth and exploiting the environmental benefits of using local, sustainable materials,” said Xavier De Kestelier, a member of Foster’s specialist modelling group. “Our lunar habitation follows a similar logic.”
There's no mention how they are printing it, what they are mixing the dust with. More at BD ONLINE
UPDATE the European Space agency has issued a press release:
Setting up a lunar base could be made much simpler by using a 3D printer to build it from local materials. Industrial partners including renowned architects Foster + Partners have joined with ESA to test the feasibility of 3D printing using lunar soil.
“Terrestrial 3D printing technology has produced entire structures,” said Laurent Pambaguian, heading the project for ESA.
“Our industrial team investigated if it could similarly be employed to build a lunar habitat.”
Foster + Partners devised a weight-bearing ‘catenary’ dome design with a cellular structured wall to shield against micrometeoroids and space radiation, incorporating a pressurised inflatable to shelter astronauts.
A hollow closed-cell structure – reminiscent of bird bones – provides a good combination of strength and weight.
The base’s design was guided in turn by the properties of 3D-printed lunar soil, with a 1.5 tonne building block produced as a demonstration.
“3D printing offers a potential means of facilitating lunar settlement with reduced logistics from Earth,” added Scott Hovland of ESA’s human spaceflight team.
“The new possibilities this work opens up can then be considered by international space agencies as part of the current development of a common exploration strategy.”
The UK’s Monolite supplied the D-Shape printer, with a mobile printing array of nozzles on a 6 m frame to spray a binding solution onto a sand-like building material.
3D ‘printouts’ are built up layer by layer – the company more typically uses its printer to create sculptures and is working on artificial coral reefs to help preserve beaches from energetic sea waves.
“First, we needed to mix the simulated lunar material with magnesium oxide. This turns it into ‘paper’ we can print with,” explained Monolite founder Enrico Dini.
“Then for our structural ‘ink’ we apply a binding salt which converts material to a stone-like solid.
“Our current printer builds at a rate of around 2 m per hour, while our next-generation design should attain 3.5 m per hour, completing an entire building in a week.”
Italian space research firm Alta SpA worked with Pisa-based engineering university Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna on adapting 3D printing techniques to a Moon mission and ensuring process quality control. The effect of working in a vacuum was also assessed.
“The process is based on applying liquids but, of course, unprotected liquids boil away in vacuum,” said Giovanni Cesaretti of Alta.
“So we inserted the 3D printer nozzle beneath the regolith layer. We found small 2 mm-scale droplets stay trapped by capillary forces in the soil, meaning the printing process can indeed work in vacuum.”
Foster + Partners provides more detail on their site:
The practice 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.
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 was designed by Foster + Partners in collaboration with consortium partners – it is groundbreaking in demonstrating the potential of 3D printing to create structures that are close to natural biological systems.
Simulated lunar soil has been used to create a 1.5 tonne mockup and 3D printing tests have been undertaken at a smaller scale in a vacuum chamber to echo lunar conditions. The planned site for the base is at the moon’s southern pole, where there is near perpetual sunlight on the horizon.
The consortium includes Italian space engineering firm Alta SpA, working with Pisa-based engineering university Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna. Monolite UK supplied the D-Shape™ printer and developed a European source for lunar regolith stimulant, which has been used for printing all samples and demonstrators.
This is not the first time we have shown this kind of thing; Behrokh Khoshnevis has proposed using his contour crafting system on the moon.