There have been many stories on 3D printing and 3D printers in the news lately but in my opinion few are as exciting the one I read the recently. Foster + Partners, a forward thinking company recognised for its prestigious and modern architecture and development of some of the finest modern buildings in the world have partnered with the European Space Agency to build the first building on the Moon.
Initially the building is intended to act as a base for up to four people and will be strong enough to protect its inhabitants, or lunar dwellers from meteorites, gamma radiation and extreme temperature fluctuations expected in outer space conditions. As if the thought of actually building on the Moon is not exciting enough this building will actually be created using a 3D printer utilising materials found locally (on the Moon).
The building starts out as an inflatable base that can be packed into a module or pod and launched via commercial rocket into space and then on to the Moon. Once landed the inflatable section inflates into a dome shape to provide support for the first phase of the build, the inflatable support is encased in a unique type of light foam shell, it’s then that the 3D printer controlled by robots springs into action.
The 3D printer used for lunar printing doesn’t use the average printer cartridges, in fact it doesn’t use ink cartridges at all, not in the true sense of an inkjet or laser printer we use here on earth. Instead of ink it uses a type of binding agent and moon dust or regolith to create a substance that once sets is as strong as concrete.
The robotically controlled 3D printer, much like an average printer, makes repeated passes over the pre-built shell building up the structure layer by layer with its “ink” and the end result being a safe and solid building. Although initially built for up to four people, once the process is proven bigger and more complex buildings can be “printed”.
Previous scaled down tests carried out in specially created lunar like conditions have proved successful for Foster + Partners and the consortium of pioneering companies involved in the mission. The next stage is to do it for real, on the Moon.
It is quite amazing that we are actually discussing or reading about colonising the Moon in buildings created by printers and robots, delivered by rockets….this is all stuff from the future or from Hollywood Sci-Fi movies isn’t it? Well no! It’s not…. its reality, it is happening, the future is here and it’s getting exciting.
At this stage we are not really sure of the exact purpose of these lunar lodgings, Foster + Partners and their consortium has yet to release the reason behind the plan, possibly research but I have a little theory of my own. I read an article last year on the BBC website stating that film director slash explorer James Cameron and Google’s Larry Page and Eric Schmidt along with other billionaire entrepreneurs are behind a plan to mine raw materials from asteroids floating around in outer space. Their ambitious plan is initially to launch a series of telescopes to spot the asteroids and then develop the means to mine them for raw and precious materials using robots. Maybe and I say maybe as it is just my thought but maybe this is the reason behind the lunar buildings, a base on the Moon from which to launch these mining missions.
This is only one of many really exciting stories I have read recently involving 3D printers and ground breaking innovation, printers that can create anything from human cells to buildings on the Moon. We are witnessing the next generation in printing technology that will change so many things beyond recognition that it truly does boggle the mind, what next is the question, and I for one can’t wait to find out.
Michael is a content writer for www.cartridgeexpress.net. He writes blogs and articles on many subjects including industry news, recycling and printer cartridges.