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Giant steps are what you take, printing on the Moon

Giant steps are what you take, printing on the Moon

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News & Events - Engineering News

February 4, 2013

The announcement that a Dutch architect was planning to use 3D-printing to construct a building may have raised a few eyebrows in the construction industry, but it appears that some designers have set their sights even higher.

According to the BBC, Fosters and Partners, a London-based firm that designed Wembley Stadium, the Hearst Tower in New York and Beijing Airport among many others, has revealed plans to construct a moon base using additive manufacturing and innovative engineering tools. The base, which is expected to be able to house four people, is the result of a collaboration between the firm and the European Space Agency.

The team behind this ambitious project is confident that the engineering resources needed for the project could be found on the Moon itself, utilizing technology that is already being tested by NASA to recreate moon rocks out of artificial regolith, the soil that covers its surface. The plan is to transport an inflatable structure to the Moon and, employing the services of robots rather than humans, to build a shell to cover the inflatable.

This is where the 3D-printers would come in. Working in a vacuum with little or no air has been proved to be tricky for human builders, and the decision to use robots to operate the printers is the only practical solution. The team has conducted a series of tests to determine whether the hypothetical construction process can even take place, with the results being positive enough to push the project on to the next step.

"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 partner in the firm's specialist modeling group. "It has been a fascinating and unique design process, which has been driven by the possibilities inherent in the material."

Additive manufacturing has exploded onto the engineering scene in recent months, with new applications being announced on what seems like a weekly basis. Scientists, researchers and designers are making the most of the advances in the technology with a number of exciting projects well under way in countries across the globe.

Moon bases may seem rooted in science fiction, but it is more than likely to become science fact. Fosters has already revealed that it has a bespoke 3D-printer in development, known as the Microgravity Foundry, and sources at the company expects to be ready to start production by 2020, which would fit nicely into NASA's own plans for deeper space exploration.

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