When you imagine people building a base on a crag hovering in space, you will probably imagine science fiction books you read at school. Quite soon such an achievement will not be a dream, but instead the work of NASA, the ESA, or maybe a private company.
Even though there are no straight forward plans to build a base on the Moon, the latest technological progress, together with improvement ideas, will soon make this project very probable. Robotics could work together with 3D printers to reduce the price of the project, make it less risky, and more likely to succeed than many specialists supposed earlier.
Before the arrival of 3D printing, settling a base on any celestial body would sound like a completely impractical idea. The price of transporting materials to the moon would be so significant, that any project would finally turn ineffective. Things have changed. In theory, to make a 3D printer work on the Moon, the only material required, together with a regular NASA mission, the printer itself, a kind of linking agent, that would make the moon dust hard into structures and some appliances.
The technology of printing vast solid structures is already real. Contour crafting is recognized as the technology of creating vast concrete patterns, and was researched by Behrokh Khoshnevis of the University of Southern California’s Information Sciences Institute. He worked for NASA for about four years, trying to put forward the proper schematics for printing out Martian and Moon bases in the future. In accordance with Khoshnevis, those bases could be printed consuming 90% Moon dust, which would mean that astronauts will be in charge of carrying the rest 10%. Such a small portion of materials could be made up of the linking agents (elements) used in the concrete like matter thrown out of the printer.
The European Space Agency is currently developing quite a similar technology. Indeed, there may still a long way for them to go in developing a final plan, as NASA is.
“3D printing suggests a prospective way of forwarding lunar settlement with decreased management from Earth,” said Scott Hovland from the ESA.
Scientists from Italy have already managed to experiment with print structures, using a material containing 99.8% the composition similar to Moon dust. The matter was discovered within an Italian volcano by accident. Yet there are some difficulties to deal with, all of which seem possible in the nearest future like temperatures on the Moon, the absence of gravity, and dangers to people operating the machines. These are to be developed into a terminating plan that is likely one day to be carried out.