NASA currently uses 3D Printing technology in outer space to build custom parts and tools on the International Space Station.
"When a tool breaks, at the very worst the space-station crew calls Houston and says, 'Send us a CAD (computer-aided design) file of that tool,' and they'll be able to 3D Print it," said Jason Dunn, chief technology officer and cofounder of Made in Space, Inc. "Ideally, one day they'll be able to design it themselves."
Their next 3D Printing project will be on a much larger scale.
Txchnologist suggests that a large 3D Printer could be used to build structures on the surface of the moon. NASA could mix lunar dust with water and other compounds to form concrete.
NASA has awarded a grant to Behrokh Khosnevis, an engineering professor at the University of Southern California and director of the Center of Rapid Automatic Fabrication Technologies to explore the possibility of using 3D Printing to build on the surface of the moon.
Using an additive manufacturing technique Khosnevis refered to as "contour crafting," the 3D Printer dispenses layers of concrete while robotic trowels smooth out the unhardened concrete to any shape imagined. Other robotic features could install electrical wiring, plumbing and other conveniences as the building is printed in 3D. Khosnevis has demonstrated the ability to print one square foot of wall every 20 seconds.
Can we really create concrete on the moon?
Many studies have already been carried out determining the possibility of using lunar dust and regolith to make concrete. One study, completed by the University of South Alabama, suggested that making lunar concrete using molten sulfur is a possibility. In an Ad Astra article, John Wickman detailed a study that made concrete out of lunar dust, along with a binding fiber such as magnesium, iron, aluminum or silica. It’s important to note that, water may be plentiful enough on the moon’s surface to make concrete the old fashion way.
Building on the moon
Building structures on the moon, with its harsh environment, will prove to be demanding. The lack of an atmosphere and low gravity may also provide opportunities for outer space architects to design and create buildings impossible to construct on Earth.
The idea of sending a 3D Printer to the moon to build complex structures out of local lunar materials is an interesting one. It may be that the "little house on the moon" may be a little more comfortable than us Earthlings imagined.
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