NASA to Develop 3D Printing Using Moon Dust

by Matthew Wellington on June 2, 2013

SinterHab, NASA and 3D Printing Moon DustFor decades scientists have been trying to figure out how to make human habitation on the moon possible.

Being the closest body to the earth, scientists have always been fascinated by the idea of humans living on the moon.

While man has for quite a number of times visited the moon, permanently living there has had daunting challenges especially due to the logistics involved. Scientists have been facing difficult questions to answer. How are human settlements (buildings) going to be established on the moon?

How will the risk of radiation on humans be mitigated? Where are the building materials needed for permanent settlement going to come from? And, if the materials are going to be ferried from earth, how will this impact the existing resources back at home?

The high costs of ferrying goods from the earth to the moon is among the reasons why establishing a colony on the moon has proved taxing. Transporting seemingly trivial things like glue alone costs a lot when going to the moon. Now imagine how much more would need to be spent for the more consequential materials to get to the moon!

How 3D Printing Comes In

Fortunately, there are high prospects that 3D printing is going to save the day. NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) in collaboration with other international scientist organizations; have discovered that 3D printing technology could be just what they need to make development of a human colony on the moon a reality.

Several tests have proved that 3D printing can be used to harden moon dust (regolith), which can later be used to form lunar bases for astronauts. Not only does 3D printing increase the possibility of human settlement on the moon but it also substantially lowers the overall costs of setting up a colony.

With almost everything that will be needed already on the moon, no longer does NASA have to fret about the sky-high costs of ferrying building materials?

However considering the ‘not so friendly’ conditions on the moon, the colony might not be anything you have in mind. It will be more like a typical astronaut station.

Basically, lightweight dome-shaped inflatable modules joined by a solid connector will form the base of each ‘settlement’. Giant size 3D printing bots will then be used to place layers of hardened regolith on top of the dome bases. The exterior layers of hardened lunar soil will play a crucial role of protecting the astronauts from harmful radiation. On top of that, the 3D printed moon dust will come handy in providing temperature insulation.

SinterHab Approach

The SinterHab Idea is another approach that aims at providing the much awaited solution of settling a colony on the moon. There are possibilities that with the help of the famous NASA spider like ATHLETE Robot; a colony could be developed using solar energy, moon dust and microwaves.

Though the technique hasn’t been fully approved; some scientists are of the idea that if the microwave sintering method is used, and lunar dust is heated by microwaves to a certain temperature in the presence of solar energy, it will solidify into bricks made from the very same moon dust.

These bricks could then be used to build colonies cheaply. It is also believed that natural hardening of the heated moon dust will eliminate the need for glue as the bricks will cool off to form robust joint structures on their own.

Other Incentives for Settling on the Moon

A number of new discoveries have been made that reveal the possibility of a successful colony establishment and increase the desire to make the same a reality. For instance, several researchers have shown that there might be a number of volcanic lava tunnels on the moon.

Inside the tunnels, it is onerous for astronauts to be affected by radiation provided the tunnels are properly covered by a hard impenetrable exterior. In such cases, inflatable models can be just enough for NASA to form moon bases (shelter) for their astronauts. The only disclaimer is the inflatables should be fitted inside one of the lava tunnels.

Besides, it has been found that the moon has rich deposits of titanium among numerous other minerals. Titanium on its own can help produce stronger objects and tools for the astronauts to use on the moon. So with 3D printers and bots, astronauts in the near future will be able to create whatever tools they need while on the moon. And thanks to Titanium Minerals there, the tools can be just as sturdy as the ones found on earth.

Currently the biggest incentive though, is the great opportunity of tapping unlimited solar energy while on the moon. The moon among other regions in space, is hardly affected by long periods of darkness like is the case here on earth. This essentially means you can tap practically twice as much solar energy from the moon, than when on the earth.

Shimizu Corporation is among the first companies to show extreme interest in the limitless solar energy tapping capability that the moon presents. But being a huge economic incentive, it might only be a matter of time before other companies start joining the race too.

Food and Water

Generally, 3D printing has done exceptionally well in shinning a glimmer of light on what was the dying hope of a colony ever existing on the moon. Lunar bases are certainly going to be a reality now that 3D printing has presented a far more reliable solution.

Even then, scientists are still faced by the problem of finding out sources of food and water on the moon. Traces of water have been found in the moon due to solar wind interacting with moon dust, but statistics are yet to show how reliable such water can be for drinking and in sustaining a colony. Keeping in mind, every dome is expected to shelter at least four astronauts.

Although with the increased interest in studying the moon, man is learning more and more new things about the moon that can make human habitat possible. With the help of technology, it is highly likely that a solution will be unearthed on the impediment of lack of food and water.

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