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Brief Published: 6 Feb 2013

3D Printing Reaches for the Moon


3D printing’s reputation as something of a gimmick may be about to experience a sea-change, as London-based architects practice Foster + Partners plans to use the technique to put buildings on the moon.

As part of a project in conjunction with the European Space Agency (ESA) and Enrico Dini (the inventor of large-format 3D printing), Foster + Partners plans to use local (moon) materials, building the structures entirely on site. While earthbound materials aren’t generally an ideal match for large-scale 3D printing, the granular, sandy nature of lunar soil is ideal fodder for such experimental structural techniques.

A 3D printer will be connected to a series of nozzles, all of which are attached to a 6-metre frame. The nozzles will distribute a binding agent, helping to pack the layers of lunar soil together as the printer builds the structures layer upon layer.

“As many an aerospace engineer will tell you, one of the biggest hurdles facing colonisation is the sheer expense of catapulting thousands of pounds of building materials out of orbit,” says Scott Hovland, head of human systems at ESA. “These plans would dramatically reduce the amount of materials being shuttled to and from the moon.”

The proposals may make lunar buildings viable for the first time – presenting a realistic alternative to inflatable structures. These had been frontrunners due to their lightweight aspect, but didn’t necessarily make the grade in terms of protection from micro-meteoroids or space radiation.

Foster + Partners believes lunar living environments could become a reality in the next few years.

For more information on how 3D printing may drastically change consumer culture a little closer to home, see our 3D Printing Update: From Gimmick to Game Changer.

Foster and Partners