Future astronauts might end up living in a moon base created largely from lunar dust and regolith, if a giant 3-D printing device can work on the lunar surface.
The print-on-demand technology, known as D-Shape, could save on launch and transportation costs for manned missions to the moon. But the concept must first prove itself in exploratory tests funded by the European Space Agency (ESA)
"We will make very basic printing trials in a vacuum environment to verify if this is possible," said Enrico Dini, chairman of Monolite UK Ltd and creator of D-Shape.
Dini's D-Shape has created full-size sandstone buildings on Earth by using a 3-D printing process similar to how inkjet printers work. It adds a special inorganic binder to sand so that it can build a structure from the bottom up, one layer at a time.
The device raises its printer head by just 5 to 10 millimeters for each layer, moving from side to side on horizontal beams as well as up and down on four metal frame columns. Finished structures end made out of a marble-like material that's superior to certain types of cement. The buildings do not require iron reinforcing.
Such a concept might help future lunar colonists live off the land, as well as provide thick-walled structures that protect against solar storms or micrometeorites.
I have no idea if this concept will succeed or fail on the Moon, but I'm glad someone is at least trying to do something like this. And, even if D-Shape doesn't pan out for lunar living, the things learned from the experiments may just make building structures easier, more practical, or at least more interesting here on Earth.