The truth about 3D printing a lunar base with MOON DUST

From Belinda Carr.

A new space race is on with very ambitious end goals like starting a permanent colony on the Moon, placing the first humans on Mars, and exploring other worlds in our solar system. As part of this revival of space exploration, NASA has awarded multi-million dollar contracts to 3D printing construction firms with the hopes of establishing lunar colonies by 2040.

What’s sparking this global fervor for 3D printing on the moon? How feasible is the technology in harsh lunar environments? And what does it mean for construction back on earth?

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0:00 Introduction
1:04 NASA Artemis program
2:00 What is regolith?
3:11 Lunar Colony proposals
4:50 ICON’s Mars and Lunar Habitats
6:56 Advantages of 3D printed regolith
8:38 Sponsor
9:30 Disadvantages of 3D printed regolith
111:06 Conclusion

One of the key components of NASA’s Artemis program is the Gateway space station. It will orbit the Moon and provide essential support for lunar missions. From lunar orbit, astronauts will ride to the surface of the Moon, landing where no humans have ever been: the lunar South Pole. This is the ideal location for a future base camp given its potential access to ice and other mineral resources. NASA’s long term vision is to establish a fixed habitat at the Base Camp that can house up to four astronauts for a month-long stay.

We can’t approach building a habitat on the moon in the same wasteful way we do on the earth. There’s no home depot we can run to for our weekend projects. We have to learn to live off the land and use local resources because every kilogram we send up there costs one million dollars. The most promising material we can use is lunar soil or regolith.

Regolith is a layer of loose, unconsolidated rock and dust that sits on top of bedrock. Lunar regolith has formed over the last 4.6 billion years from the impact of large and small meteoroids that break down surface rocks. We can excavate this powder to make a new building material. While regular concrete is composed of water, aggregate and cement, lunarcrete would be made out of regolith and sulfur.

Sulfur acts as a thermoplastic binding material. It can be mixed with regolith, heated to its melting point and then cooled down to make Lunarcrete. This sintering process can be achieved with concentrated sunlight. The resulting solid Lunarcrete doesn’t need to be cured and it doesn’t need water. Using this mixture as a base material, construction companies around the world have come up with some pretty outlandish proposals for lunar colonies.

In 2022, ICON received an additional $57.2 million to develop Olympus, a 3D-printing system for the moon. They have teamed up with Bjarke Ingels Group and Search+ to design these donut-like igloos with waffled exteriors. The team is also experimenting with simulated or synthetic regolith. Instead of a nozzle squirting out soft concrete, a high-intensity laser beam melts the powdery regolith to transform it into a hard, strong, building material. ICON then sends their test prints to NASA, where they’re blasted with a plasma torch to 4,000F . This test will tell us whether regolith can be used for landing pads. The next test will be operating the robotic arm and laser inside NASA’s thermal vacuum chamber, which mimics the moon’s extreme cold, heat and vacuum conditions.

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#3dprinting #regolith #architecture #concrete #3d