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3D printing---which takes a digital model and, layer by layer, reproduces it---is set to change the world with its incredibly efficient and space-convenient manufacturing.
But hey, why settle for one world? It looks like 3D printing could very well change the Moon, too. And by a lot!
Generally, the main cost of space exploration is actually just getting something there in the first place. Earth’s gravity well requires so much push to get away from it, that fuel and launch costs start to become exponential:
“Transporting a kilogram of payload into space costs between $50-$100,000, making the typical 80 pound bag of $6 concrete mix from Home Depot cost two million dollars by the time it leaves the planet.” - "This Is Lunarcrete, a Building Block for Moon Colonies", io9.com.
So, lugging something like steel beams or bricks into space becomes kind of a ridiculous prospect.
So, how do you build something efficiently in space?
By building it in space, of course.
Enter the 3D printer. This manufacturing monument takes up a relatively small amount of space, so by launching one into space and then using lightweight (or local) resources as a feeding material, a lot more becomes feasible.
And the Moon just happens to be covered in a usable, local resource. Moon dust---which the Moon obviously has quite a bit of---could be processed into lunar concrete:
“Here on Earth, concrete is made from a pebbly aggregate bound together by water and cement. Lunar concrete could be made using plentiful moon dust as the aggregate, and binding it together using sulphur purified from lunar soil.” -"Astronauts could mix DIY concrete for cheap moon base", NewScientist.com.
Or, as the newer plan goes, it could fed right into a 3D printer:
”His team created simple 3D shapes by sending a digital file or scan to a printer which then built the items layer by layer out of melted lunar regolith, fed via a carefully controlled nozzle to form a shape.” - "3D printers could use Moon rocks, say scientists", BBCNews.com.
Lately, the buzz has been all about tools. Tools (like wrenches), replacement parts, or the aforementioned concrete bricks could all be printed at a huge savings versus bringing them.
But beyond just tools, entire moon buildings could be built in one shot:
Italian inventor Enrico Dini used his large D-Shape printer to build the above crazy structure in much better time and cost than traditional construction:
“The D-shape printer can create a building four times faster than it could be built by conventional means, and reduces the cost to half or less. There is little waste, which is better for the environment, and it can easily “print” curved structures that are difficult and expensive to build by other means.” -"3D printer could build moon bases ", Phys.org.
And now, NASA is looking at something similar:
“NASA has awarded a grant to Behrokh Khosnevis, a professor of engineering at the University of Southern California and director of the Center of Rapid Automatic Fabrication Technologies to explore the idea of using 3D printing to build on the moon. The 3D printer, using a technique that Khosnevis calls "contour crafting," pours out layers of concrete while robotic trowels smooth out the hardening concrete to any angle desired.” - "NASA Explores 3D Printing to Build Houses on the Moon", Yahoo! News.
So now, it’s looking like we, our kids, and/or our grandkids could be vacationing in freshly-built (or even custom-designed) lunar villas. Build your curvy ‘dream house on the Moon’ digitally, stick it on a flash drive, catch a Virgin Galactic spaceline flight to Aldrin Base, hand it over to the builders, and voila!---you’ve got your own Moon home that may very well have been cheaper and faster to build than one on Earth today.
Where would you put 3D-printed moon buildings?
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