3D printers could be used to help construct lunar bases with materials taken from the Moon itself. The European Space Agency (ESA) is collaborating with architects Foster + Partners to conduct research into the construction technique, and has "confirmed the basic concept." That concept involves mixing lunar material with magnesium oxide to form the base substance, then applying a binding salt that solidifies the material; inserting the printer's nozzle beneath the moon's surface allows for printing in a vacuum.
Print a building in a week
The ESA is using a printer from UK-based Monolite, which has previously experimented with printing buildings on Earth and expects that its future models will be able to construct an entire building in around a week. The current blueprint from Foster + Partners is a dome-shaped building with a wall designed to protect against space radiation and tiny meteoroids.
While the basic idea seems sound, a lot more research is required to evaluate its practicality. 3D printing is most effective at room temperature, for example, which wouldn't often be the case in the wildly shifting climate of the moon, and the buildings would also need protection against hazardous lunar dust. Of course, it's also not been possible to test this out with actual lunar material. But the concept is fascinating, and we welcome any news that could help lead to future future manned missions to the Moon.