3D printed moon-base

The European Space Agency is contemplating 3D printed moon-bases:

By using the Moon’s loose rocks (regolith) as a base for concrete, robots based on Monolite’s D-Shape 3-D printer will be able to build up a structure that uses as many local materials as possible. The idea is that with a shell made of moon rocks to act as a shield against micro-meteors and similar hazards, the living quarters for moon colonists could be inflatable envelopes protected by these shells.

3-D printing concrete in a vacuum is very, very different from printing it on earth. The teams have been experimenting with simulated moon rock material in vacuum chambers to find methods of construction that work. The problem being that concrete relies on applying liquids and unprotected liquids boil away when there’s no atmosphere. They discovered that by inserting the 3-D printer’s nozzle underneath the regolith, capillary forces kept enough liquid in place long enough to set properly.

This is also the premise of a novella I'm writing for Neal Stephenson/Arizona State University's Heiroglyphyics project. Nice to see reality clipping along!

3-D Printed Buildings Coming Soon to a Moon Near You [Tim Maly/Wired]


  1. I’m noticing a space theme on BB today!  Good deal!

    So, maybe a bit off topic, but I think related given the nature of this project: just a general question about the future of space exploration that might interest the community here… if the first breakthroughs were propelled by Cold War geopolitical concerns and driven by public spending, and now there are no “commies” to beat into space (our existentialist “enemy”, and I use this term loosely, are about as low-tech as it gets… I don’t think the successors to OBL are looking to launch a satelite or land on mars…), what will drive the future of such projects? I notice here that you have something of a private-public partnership and that seems a common theme on things involving space exploration – the mars 2020 thing is privately funded, the guy who did that amazing space jump was sponsored by red bull, I think, etc and so on…. Is that how it will move forward from now on? Further, does that mean the commercialization of space, crass or otherwise? And if the next leap forward here is more privately than publicly funded, what does that mean as far as our relationship to it? Does that mean we no longer own it in the same way we do when NASA does something?  Does this mean a Futurama-like amusement park on the moon someday?

    Just some things I’ve been wondering about…

    1. Everything above LEO is orders of magnitude more expensive to reach than Antarctica. Look at the history of antarctic exploration, and it’s a cultural luxury. It was only a weird little historical fluke that reaching the moon could be a stand-in stunt double for the political equivalent of putting atom bombs in low earth orbit. Were it not for that bit of showmanship, we’d have had orbital bombs by now.

       My point is this: space is a purely optional luxury.  Nothing is going to drive humans into space through some sort of historical political magical thinking, we’re going to go there for the same reasons we visit Antarctica.

      To put it another way: any future where space resources look competitive to what’s already here, is about as grim as the future where we ‘need’ to go exploiting antarctic fossil fuels.

      That whole “Manifest Destiny- we go because it’s there” only works when people of modest means can get there by their own sweat.

      I’m not much looking forward to a cold war with China just so we can try to pull another orbital shell game. There’s no reason for China to want to run a race that the soviets already lost. Hell, they could just buy our space program for scrap prices, all they have to do is call in our debt to them.

      1.  I wouldn’t say that space is an optional luxury.  Rather PEOPLE in space is an optional luxury.  Lots of worthwhile uses for unmanned satellites in LEO and GEO. 

    1. I was thinking there is unlimited sun-power to simply fuse the rock, or sinter it together.  It doesn’t even have to go full molten, but just enough to get the bits to stick together.  A solar array, or mirrored heliostat collector could channel enough sunlight to achieve it.

      1. I imagine the first few print jobs could be making some heliostat mirrors. Then those mirrors could power up subsequent prints.

    2. Or just concrete maybe. I saw a block of concrete made from left over lunar dust. The nice thing about dust on the moon is that there is so much of it. Just scoop up normal regolith with an autonomous loader, sift it to get the fines then drop it straight into a machine which presumably makes walls.

    1. I recall a 1950s story where they found lunar water, generated hydrogen, and then used plasma torches to melt the rock..

  2. My Dad and I are always discussing a future utopia according to Star Trek. He and I agree that one of the first requirements is the invention of replicators. Although a baby step, 3-D printers are the first step towards that goal. 
    /end of stating the obvious

    1. “Technological advance is an inherently iterative process. One does not simply take sand from the beach and produce a Dataprobe. We use crude tools to fashion better tools, and then our better tools to fashion more precise tools, and so on. Each minor refinement is a step in the process, and all of the steps must be taken.”
      Chairman Sheng-ji Yang, “Looking God in the Eye”

  3. Use the moon “printer” to start a linear accelerator and shoot “stuff” to Lagrange points….now we are talking!

  4. What will the aliens in “n” billion years make of a moon covered with “flat-pack” houses orbiting a burnt cinder?

  5. I heard Disney World on Mars is considering 3d-printing a Haunted Mansion to combat censorship in a post-scarcity 1950s DIY technocracy, which will be crowdfunded by guerilla banana donations. Better get on it, Cory.

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