Scientists at the European Space Agency (ESA) have succeeded in printing 3D bricks out of simulated moondust, with the help of concentrated sunlight.
The discovery could pave the way for future lunar colonists to one day use the same approach to build settlements on the moon.
“We took simulated lunar material and cooked it in a solar furnace,” explains materials engineer Advenit Makaya, overseeing the project for ESA.
“This was done on a 3D printer table, to bake successive 0.1mm layers of moondust at 1,000°C. We can complete a 20 x 10 x 3cm brick for building in around five hours.”
As raw material, the test used commercially available simulated lunar soil based on terrestrial volcanic material, processed to imitate the composition and grain sizes of genuine moondust.
ESA General Support Technology Programme study, the follow-up RegoLight project is supported under the Horizon 2020 programme.
Advenit adds: “Our demonstration took place in standard atmospheric conditions, but RegoLight will probe the printing of bricks in representative lunar conditions: vacuum and high-temperature extremes.”
This continuing research is part of a range of studies being undertaken by ESA investigating techniques to use in situ lunar resources for manufacturing infrastructure and hardware.
Tommaso Ghidini, head of ESA’s Materials and Processes, said: “For a mission like building a base on the moon surface, in situ resource utilisation will certainly be one of the most important enabling technologies. This result offers the opportunity of a complete sustainable approach.
“Back on Earth, 3D printing of civil structures using solar power and in situ resources could support rapid construction of post-disaster emergency shelters, removing long, costly and often inefficient supply chains.”