Lunar base made with 3D printing - image courtesy of ESA/Foster + Partners

Remote Stereolunagraphy

Multi-dome base being constructed

Multi-dome base being constructed. Copyright ESA/Foster + Partners


Scientists at NASA and the ESA are already pursuing research in using additive printing and fabrication to create structures in space or on other worlds, so reality is threatening to outpace this collaboration. Cory Doctorow and others are discussing the idea of sending one or more 3D printers to the Moon to create structures out of lunar regolith and trace materials. Follow the discussion to date in the project forum.

The premise

A group of Burning Man hackers mod a powder-deposition printer to use solar energy and some kind of locally derived binder to print playa dust (gypsum sand), powered by photovoltaic arrays, possibly using COTS blue lasers from surplus DVD players.

They learn so much doing this that they throw in their lot with Long-Now-style space colonization utopians and raise the money to put one (or more) of these printers on the moon, modded to print in regolith (possibly autosorting the regloith for a trace-element to use as a binder).

This printer is directed from a ground-station that is controlled by an Architecture for Humanity-style wiki on which arguments and technical challenges reign for a generation. The wiki periodically squirts the printer with updates for its operational plan (something like the new firmware periodically loaded onto the Mars rovers).

At one point, the printer sinks below the regolith and is lost, but has been cleverly programmed to notice if it doesn’t get its regular comms update, and to use an internal mechanism to figure out which way is UP, and to print in that direction until its antenna is on the surface again. Contact is reestablished.

A generation (or more) later, the lunar habitat is complete and ready for move-in. On the way, the ground-station has used advances in material science and underlying 3D printing techniques to print more 3D printers, photocells, etc, so now it’s rather luxurious.


Copyright ESA/Foster + Partners

Once assembled, the inflated domes are covered with a layer of 3D-printed lunar regolith by robots to help protect the occupants against space radiation and micrometeoroids. Copyright ESA/Foster + Partners

In the news

ESA Moon Base Plan Could Use 3D Printing & Lunar Soil (Huffington Post)

Astronauts Could Mix DIY Concrete for Cheap Moon Base (New Scientist)

Printable Houses are Coming (Kurzweil)

And, of course, lunacrete on Wikipedia.

Cory Doctorow is a science fiction author, activist, journalist, and blogger. He is the coeditor of Boing Boing and the author of young adult novels like Homeland (2013), Pirate Cinema (2012), and Little Brother (2008) and novels for adults like Rapture of the Nerds (2012) and Makers (2009). Cory is the former European director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and cofounded the UK Open Rights Group. Born in Toronto, Canada, he now lives in London.

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