London-based architects Foster + Partners have revealed plans to print 3D structures on the moon in partnership with the European Space Agency. The technology will allow the team to use local materials on the moon as a building material, meaning they can print entire buildings from scratch. According to Foster + Partners, the idea of expanding to build lunar habitats could be realistic in the next few years, using dome designs to shield inhabitants from micro-meteoroids and space radiation.
The 3D printer itself will have an array of nozzles on a 6 meter frame, each of which will spray binding solution onto the sand-like material, building up structures one tiny layer at a time. "First, we needed to mix the simulated lunar material with magnesium oxide. This turns it into 'paper' we can print with,' explains monolite founder Enrico Dini. "Then for our structural 'ink' we apply a binding salt which converts material to a stone-like solid. Our current printer builds at a rate of around 2 m per hour, while our next-generation design should attain 3.5 meters per hour, completing an entire building in a week."