Architectural firm Foster + Partners has unveiled designs for a 3D-printed moon base made from lunar soil.
Foster + Partners is part of a consortium set up by the European Space Agency (ESA) to explore the possibilities of 3D printing to construct lunar habitations.
The Foster + Partners-designed lunar base will house four people and the company claims that it can offer protection from meteorites, gamma radiation and high temperature fluctuations.
The base is first unfolded from a tubular module, which can be transported by space rocket, and an inflatable dome then extends from one end of the cylinder to provide a support structure for construction.
Foster + Partners said layers of regolith are then built up over the dome by a robot-operated 3D printer to create a protective shell.
A hollow closed-cell structure, similar to foam, will provide a combination of strength and weight.
The architectural firm used simulated lunar soil to create a 1.5 tonne mockup and 3D printing tests have been undertaken at a smaller scale in a vacuum chamber to imitate lunar conditions.
Foster + Partners said that the planned site for the base is at the moon’s southern pole, where there is near perpetual sunlight on the horizon.
Laurent Pambaguian, head of the project for ESA, said terrestrial 3D printing technology has produced entire structures.
"Our industrial team investigated if it could similarly be employed to build a lunar habitat," Pambaguian said.
ESA human spaceflight team member Scott Hovland said 3D printing offers a potential means of facilitating lunar settlement with reduced logistics from Earth.
"The new possibilities this work opens up can then be considered by international space agencies as part of the current development of a common exploration strategy," Hovland said.
The consortium includes Italy-based space engineering company Alta, working with Pisa-based engineering university Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna.
Monolite UK supplied the D-Shape printer and developed a European source for lunar regolith stimulant, which has been used for printing all samples and demonstrators.
Image: Foster + Partners’ designed lunar base will offer protection from meteorites, gamma radiation and high temperature fluctuations. Photo: European Space Agency.