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Moon Space Hardware

Architecture Firm and ESA To 3D Print Building On the Moon 113

Posted by samzenpus
from the if-you-print-it-they-will-come dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Internationally acclaimed architecture firm Foster + Partners built the Hearst Tower, the Millennium Bridge, and the Gherkin here on earth — and now they're setting their sights on outer space with plans to produce a 3D printed building on the moon. Today the firm announced that it has partnered with the European Space Agency to develop a lunar base for four people that can withstand the threat of meteorites, gamma radiation and temperature fluctuations. Since transporting building materials to space is a challenge, the team is considering using on-site 3D printing as a solution."
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Architecture Firm and ESA To 3D Print Building On the Moon

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  • Getting the printer up there is the trick. But perhaps I'll go rtfa ....

    • Unsatisfying blurb on fosters site. A regolith dome over a inflatable original structure. It makes good sense, but the hype should be more about the fact that its a manned moon base. For some reason it reminds me of all the press gherry got for using "aerospace manufacturing techniques" for the skin on the Bilbao Guggenheim and then again for the Disney center. Architecture sucks.

      • Inflatable/expandable structures are weaker, leak more, and have more points of failure than a rigid pre-defined structure. It's one of the reasons why the ISS is the shape it is.

        • Re:PC Load letter (Score:4, Informative)

          by Namarrgon (105036) on Friday February 01, 2013 @02:01AM (#42758625) Homepage

          NASA isn't so convinced; that's why they're testing an inflatable module [nasa.gov] for the ISS.

          You don't need structural strength in microgravity, and Bigelow claim their inflatable modules offer more radiation and ballistic protection than rigid cans. No idea about the "more points of failure" part - I'd have thought an inflatable structure would be simpler though. Do you have citations?

          • by Anonymous Coward

            There is a large difference between an inflatable in orbit and an inflatable underground.

            The bigelow module is more radiation resistant because its inflated with water. I don't know about ballistic protection, would need to see some reports. The ISS uses a combination of kevlar and whipple shields for micrometeorite protection.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whipple_shield

            • by Namarrgon (105036)

              Inflated with water? Are you sure about that? I can't see any mention of any Bigelow design being inflated with anything except air.

              Current designs like the BA-330 [wikipedia.org] use multiple Whipple-style layers of shielding fabric, including layers of Kevlar and Vectran, akin to the TransHab [wikipedia.org] design they're based on.

              I would imagine an inflatable module could be perfectly adequate as a construction support, especially in lunar gravity.

              • I think the water is an internal area for super shielding in the event of a radiation event. The 'core' area astronauts can retreat to for short term (a week or two) safety. Though I think that's more on the trip to Mars rather than ISS. Same concept I think though.
          • The lunar gravity is approximately 1/6 of the Earth surface gravity, it is no micro gravity..
        • ``inflate'' things with concrete or local equivalent, and you gots a very sturdy and structurally sound structure.

        • Inflatable is inherently leak proof. As for structurally resistant you have to consider that on the vacuum of the moon surface it will be pressurized (for human inhabitants); that makes it very stable. Maybe a better way would be to excavate a an underground cave and seal proof it with an inflatable liner.It should be much easier to excavate than 3D print it. You could use robots to do the excavation. Or look for some natural lunar cave. There are evidences that they do exist on the lunar surface
        • Inflatable/expandable structures are weaker, leak more, and have more points of failure than a rigid pre-defined structure.

          Build it out of sintered/vitrified regolith. Plenty of material around, and a solar dish provides all the thermal energy you'll ever need.

      • by Rockoon (1252108)

        ..but the hype should be more about the fact that its a manned moon base.

        ..and the criticism too. Unless we plan to do something on the moon that cannot be done in earths orbit or even on the earths surface, then whats the point?

        Sure, we can climb a mountain 'because its there' but whats the price tag? Its one thing when its someones personal wealth injected into their personal endeavor, but its another when its public money spent with little benefit to the public.

        I've heard it suggested that rocket fuel could be made on the moon, making it possible to fuel up ships explor

        • Unless we plan to do something on the moon that cannot be done in earths orbit or even on the earths surface, then whats the point?

          Practice in an environment that is reachable by a rescue team? The moon is the perfect place for us to work out the problems with starting to colonize other planets/asteroids.

          Everything else is a one way trip if you run into trouble.

          • by Rockoon (1252108)

            The moon is the perfect place for us to work out the problems with starting to colonize other planets/asteroids

            You are presuming that its desirable to colonize significant gravity wells as a public works project..

            Convince me that your presumption has something compelling behind it, because the way I see it space stations are the future.

            • Gravity wells are were the 'stuff' is. If you want any resources you have go to down to the surfaces, whether planet, moon or asteroid. Perhaps you can ferry yourself up and down every day cheaply, but living on the surface is the cheapest way to go.

              But space stations in orbit provide usefulness as well. Both will be necessary.
            • As a perfect example. Oil platforms. People have 'colonized' the open ocean to live in small restricted habitats. Boats are harder to handle long term in the ocean since they are by definition more fragile than a solid grounded platform.

              Space stations will require all the shielding the ground colonies will require, but you have to lift all that shielding out of your original gravity well. Better to use what you have available at the bottom of your destination well. No lifting of any shielding is nec
        • ..and the criticism too. Unless we plan to do something on the moon that cannot be done in earths orbit or even on the earths surface, then whats the point?

          The techniques developed, and experience gained in doing something like this would be excellent, and applicable, for doing similar on Mars.

          Sure, we can climb a mountain 'because its there' but whats the price tag?

          What is the appropriate cost for mitigating against planetary-scale extinction events like the impact that killed the dinosaurs? Colonizi

          • by Rockoon (1252108)

            Colonizing other planets is exactly a sensible and intelligent thing to do if you want to enhance your survival rate as a species ..

            Colonizing space itself is far more sensible and intelligent than this planet colonization hollywood dream. It would take hundreds, if not thousands of years to make Mars a second chance for humanity. Colonization isnt enough if we cannot thrive there, because Mars gets hit by big things from space too.

    • by lxs (131946) on Friday February 01, 2013 @03:33AM (#42758913)

      Even worse, when you run out of photo cyan the shipping rates for a replacement cartridge make it almost not worth it.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      They aren't. This is just one of a million different studies to test the feasibility of a technology that the agency has no intention of funding on its limited budget. The ESA, like NASA, has no focus. If the ESA or NASA were building an vessel to sail across the Atlantic Ocean they would first spend billions to determine if it should be done with sailboats, speed boats, or submarines. 15 years later, a 15 kg unmanned hybrid speed boat sailboat submarine powered by an RTG with radiation shielded computers a

      • And a whole lot fewer people would die than did trying to cross the atlantic by just 'going'.

        And of course it being inherently harder than just 'sailing'...
        • But a whole lot more people would die by being trapped in Europe during a difficult period. The difficult period would have been worse absent out immigration.

          A few less native Americans would die. But despite wishful thinking, there weren't that many to begin with. Stone age technology is estimated to have supported between 50,000 and 500,000 people in Europe. Why so many more claimed in the Americas? Wishful thinking by the native American studies types?

          • Perhaps they learned to live in harmony with their environment? Something western society hasn't ever been able to do?
  • Perhaps they can get Kim Jong-Un to show them the lay of the land. http://www.theonion.com/articles/north-korea-celebrates-as-kim-jongun-becomes-first,31085/ [theonion.com]
  • by jafac (1449) on Friday February 01, 2013 @01:59AM (#42758619) Homepage

    It's probably the only viable manufacturing strategy in that environment. And; in fact, the same strategy DSI plans on pursuing in their asteroid-mining venture.

    • by dywolf (2673597)

      I dont think it's the only viable one.
      But it certainly simplifies a lot of the logistics. Isntead of having to haul hundres of diferent parts and materials....you just haul the printer up along with one, perhaps two or three, material blanks for the printer to use. Bloody brilliant in terms of simplification. About the only thing simpler would be total pre-fab on earth, but its not practical doe to shipping size limits.

    • Hmmm, that seems like a sneaky way to get some investment capital. 1. Print asteroid rich in REM and gold 2. Shoot it into outer space 3. Send ship to mine it 4. Profit
  • Link to ESA Site (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 01, 2013 @02:09AM (#42758641)

    The ESA site has a little more info that the sites linked in the summary.

    http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Technology/Building_a_lunar_base_with_3D_printing

  • by tbird81 (946205) on Friday February 01, 2013 @02:10AM (#42758645)

    Summary: "Architecture Firm and ESA To 3D Print Building On the Moon"

    Article: " to explore the possibilities of 3D printing to construct lunar habitations."

    I'm all for cool stuff, but I prefer it when the cool stuff isn't just pie in the sky.

  • by mschaffer (97223) on Friday February 01, 2013 @02:16AM (#42758669)

    I am glad they opted for the 3D printer. Imagine if they opted for a 2D printer. It would have been very disappointing.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by PeDRoRist (639207)
      Not at all. A papercraft Moon base would have been awesome IMO.
    • Well they considered it...but the projected revenues were 'flat'....
    • by magarity (164372)

      I am glad they opted for the 3D printer. Imagine if they opted for a 2D printer. It would have been very disappointing.

      Millions of school children disagree; the Moon is about the only place Flat Stanley hasn't visited.

    • by Sigg3.net (886486)

      Deep Space Extra Glossy Sepia Station.

      Let's just hope they include the highly distinguished inappropriately military-suited HP printer guy in the crew!

  • Funny thing is when it costs a few billion dollars, thoughtful ideas will get you nowhere. I wish people would be more serious about proposals. Getting money to make a prototype is not the same as going to the moon and actually printing a building. They don't have "plans to produce a 3d printed building on the moon" they have plans and funding to build a prototype. If you had a dollar for every project like this you would be a millionaire.

    • it's good to have done projects like this and the technology tested. That way the only thing left is getting a cheap enough heavy lifter developed.

      Suppose Elon or Bezos or somebody else finds a way to put a pound in orbit for a couple hundred $. You don't want them going, "Dang, now we have a good launch vehicle, but we still don't have a good spacesuit or habitation module or hyrdoponics so we gotta go start making them now."

      Like if you're trying to build a supercar, and the experimental V-20 hyperturbo en

  • Anyone want to place some bets on how long four people in a tiny, bunkerlike hamster habitube surrounded by dust and hard vacuum would last before they really started head downhill psychologically?

    • by jamstar7 (694492)
      No clue. Howbout we send up both my ex-wives as a test case?
      • by magarity (164372)

        bets on how long four people
          No clue. Howbout we send up both my ex-wives as a test case?

        Dude, if both your ex-wives make a test case of four people, well, maybe they divorced you for a reason?

        • by jamstar7 (694492)
          Well, both of them had some multiple personality issues. I was hoping, send 'em both up, mebbe they'd do me the favor of my life & kill each other.
    • by dywolf (2673597)

      Been worked on for over 60 years. Not a new question.

      In fact the first nuclear submarine crews were studied for this very reason because once the Navy had the ability to put these guys in a steel tube underwater for 6+ months at a time (as opposed to only about 36hours max with the old subs) they became perfect test cases for NASA for long term space exploration.

      Several russian cosmonauts have spent a year or more in space.

      and they dont just send any Tom Dick and Henry into space. These people are screened,

      • by tehcyder (746570)

        and they dont just send any Tom Dick and Henry into space. These people are screened, physically and psychologically, for just that reason.

        Yes, but that's the whole point: OP was talking about regular Joes, not highly trained astronauts going into space.

        • by dywolf (2673597)

          Which is why people posted pointing out his failure to consider that regular joes dont go.

      • The submariners are certainly decent test cases, but a Mars mission has more implications. The Sub 'can' surface and go to port if someone gets deathly ill. Mars you don't have that option.

        But as you say, it's something being researched, but we haven't fully explored it all yet.
    • Which season of Big Brother are you talking about?
    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      What makes you think it has to be tiny? If they're building by sintering the lunar soil, they have quite a bit of material to work with.

      Lots of slashdotters do their level best to never leave the basement, so I'm positive that they can find some people who would do fine in that environment.

      If you want to call people who can live in that environment happily weird or sick or whatever, you can probably find lots of people to agree with you. But the fact remains that they exist.

  • Surely the payload of a printer and materials will be greater than the prefabricated materials alone? Isn't this more costly? And why build, why not find somewhere where there is a cave and use the moon as a natural defense?

    • by isorox (205688)

      Surely the payload of a printer and materials will be greater than the prefabricated materials alone? Isn't this more costly? And why build, why not find somewhere where there is a cave and use the moon as a natural defense?

      Not many caves on the moon for obvious reasons

      • No but you can make your own 'caves' and get the same thing.

        Dig hole. Put in habitats. Cover hole back up. Instant cave.
      • Obviously no water eroded caves.

        Perhaps old lava tubes. Also perhaps weird geology (not the correct word, some pendant will be along) resulting from cooling shrink.

        The gravity of the moon is highly irregular. Which makes me think the moon is not homogeneous.

        We don't know.

    • The 'materials' aren't being sent. They're using the regolith from the moon.

      Even if you send some feedstock for the process, if you just build 1 building or small colony it may not make sense. But long term production on the moon's surface is going to MUCH cheaper than flying in everything.
    • Surely the payload of a printer and materials will be greater than the prefabricated materials alone? Isn't this more costly?

      Imagine for a moment that some years from now (maybe 5, 10, 15) new techniques allow for the harvesting and use of materials directly on the surface of the moon (or, imagine, another planet), perhaps even automated harvesting/mining of materials (e.g. imagine a small team of robots could scour the moon for new materials to feed into the machine). When combined with this technique, i

    • by Patch86 (1465427)

      The answer is "not necessarily". Imagine you want to build a building the same size as a family home, and that it needs to be thick enough to protect against radiation; that would be many tonnes of rigid material which would still need to be assembled.

      On the other hand, and inflatable is light and can fit in small spaces, and the "printer" is just a device capable of melting and squirting regolith; it need not be big at all.Not only that, but one "printer" can be used to build buildings of almost unlimited

  • Purple wigs and silver miniskirts? Will they have coffee ready for when Cmdr. Straker visits? We can only hope.

  • finding a company that does free shipping on printer cartridges

  • They're using a printer you can buy on Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Draper-57567-Square-Mouth-Shovel-Fibreglass/dp/B0002GUMDW/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1359722298&sr=8-1 [amazon.co.uk]

    Why the hell would you build anything for 4 people? Surely they can live in a big hole with a lid, can't they? This seems more like a job for a mining machine than a 3D printer. Then again, I'm not a rocket scientist, so I don't know what I'm talking about.

  • The collective scientific and engineering minds behind space exploration seem clear on the order of crystal that limiting the payload weight of objects leaving Earth's gravitational field is non-negotiable. It follows that making things necessary for survival from raw materials off-planet is going to be mandatory for any successful spread of humanity off this rock. There will come a day when mankind is either thankful or filled with regret regarding our progress in these endeavors.
  • Seems to me the easiest and safest bet is to prospect for suitable caves and then turn them into dwellings.

    Any fabrication will be problematic at the beginning, we should do like our ancestors and use what's already there first.

    • by jackbird (721605)

      No liquids of any kind plus no sedimentary rock plus no volcanism (ie lava tubes) for eons means no caves.

      • No erosion for eons ether. So perhaps lava tubes. At lunar gravity perhaps very large lava tubes.

        Highly irregular gravitational field. There is something strange going on under the moons surface.

        Also note: Thermal shrinkage of moon has cracked it.

        Going into the moon provides shielding. Even if you have to tunnel.

        Subtractive methods. Robotic drillers/shovels and high explosives.

    • Dig hole. Put in habitat. Cover hole. Instant 'cave' :)
      • by CCarrot (1562079)

        Dig hole. Put in habitat. Cover hole. Instant 'cave' :)

        That's exactly what I was thinking, along with "inflatable dome over cave entrance / airlock to facilitate surface work / vehicle storage, with emergency procedures to hightail it underground if you get warning of a potential meteor strike / radiation event / etc."

        All living quarters and environmental support equipment should be underground at the bare minimum, and most of the working areas too. Spend time figuring out how to reliably seal and pressurize an excavation, folks.

    • Actually, considering the use of existing structures like caves is one of the options for consideration for missions to other bodies in the solar system, it's a worthwhile suggestion. What we should probably do is use robotic cave exploration to learn more about the nature and suitability of the caves (whether Moon or Mars). I think the point of this though is to explore the option of automated or semi-automated construction, which I suspect in the longer term may have more advantages.
  • Since transporting building materials to space is a challenge, the team is considering using on-site 3D printing as a solution."

    How does using an on-site 3D printer solve this problem? Last time I checked, you need input materials. Unless you're harvesting those materials in outer space, they're going to be sourced from earth. In my opinion, you're trading manufacturing quality on earth for the cargo volume difference between a more spacious pre-asssembled part and some amorphous bag of resin

    Also, if this thing is never going to be used by humans, let's just make a monument for humanity. My best suggestion is Daft Punk's set from th

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