Can moon dust 3D print the first lunar habitat?

Author Written by Rebecca Cairns

The last time a person landed on the moon was in 1972. Now, the moon is back on NASA’s space agenda. This time the agency is not the only one visiting – it plans to stay.

Starting its Artemis missions next year, NASA aims to have astronauts on the moon by 2024 and expect a permanent lunar base The end of the decade. It will be the first habitat built on an extraterrestrial surface, and the challenges are unprecedented.
Sending a large quantity of construction materials to the moon is expensive and time consuming. But the Texas-based startup icon says it has a science fiction solution – 3D moon prints a lunar base from dust.
Jason Ballard, co-founder and CEO of Icon, says the icon is working with NASA to develop technology that can turn moon dust into a substance like concrete. Moon dust, Also known as the lunar regolith, is a sand-like topsoil covering the lunar surface, formed from ores and small pieces of glass, formed by meteorites hitting the moon millions of years ago. It is sharp, abrasive and very sticky – The Apollo astronauts It found themselves trapped in everything, including their space cases. It is plentiful, which means there is a huge distribution of raw materials if the icon is successful.

BIG’s concept for Project Olympus includes donut-shaped buildings that can be built entirely with the icon’s 3D printer. debt: Bjarke Ingels Group / ICON

The initiative was named Project Olympus after the largest known volcano in the solar system – appropriately indicating the mountain-scale challenge facing the team. But Ballard is not the only one shooting for the moon. By designing a lunar habitat, he hopes to make construction on Earth cleaner, faster and cheaper.

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Project Olympus

Icon uses 3D printing technology to build community homes in Mexico and Texas. Using a concrete-based compound called lava concrete, its Vulcan printer can print at 500 square feet in 24 hours.

But the moon is a “completely different world,” Ballard says. From Earth, it looks like a quiet, smooth, silver orb, but it is subject to high levels of radiation, violent earthquakes, extreme temperature changes, and frequent strikes of micrometers inactivating in its thin atmosphere, he says.

And turning moon dust into building materials is another big challenge. The team is testing small samples of moon dust in a laboratory – enabling how to change its position with microwaves, lasers and infrared light, while Ballard says there are “few combinations”.

The research area in the icon’s proposed lunar structure will be illuminated by smart lights that simulate day and night on Earth, helping astronauts maintain a normal sleep-wake cycle.

The research area in the icon’s proposed lunar structure will be illuminated by smart lights that simulate day and night on Earth, helping astronauts maintain a normal sleep-wake cycle. debt: Bjarke Ingels Group / ICON

Icon has partnered with two architectural firms, PJ Ingels Group (PIG) ​​and Space Research Framework (CR + +) to explore the possibilities of 3D printing technology.

Ballard says the team explored habitats in extreme environments, including the McMurdo station and the International Space Station in Antarctica, and developed a variety of lunar design ideas using their findings.

BIG founder George Ingels says architects had to consider how to create an environment that was safe and comfortable to live in.

SEArch +’s proposal has a tall, multi-layered structure that protects a hub built into the earth with protective 3D-printed petals, while BIG designs a circular structure that can be printed in full moon.

The design of the BIG includes a water membrane that encloses the walls of the bedroom – “a good insulator against radiation,” says Ingels – which provides extra protection when astronauts sleep.

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Radiation means windows should be kept to a minimum, so Ingles carefully selected only one location in the building – it would always face the earth.

SEArch + imagined a site "This will allow astronauts to come and go from the surface more often," Co-founder Rebecca Piles-Friedman says with landing pads, roads, sheds and habitats.

Co-founder Rebecca Piles-Friedman says SEArch + has envisioned a platform that would “allow astronauts to come and go from the surface more often” with landing pads, roads, sheds and habitats. debt: SEArch + / ICON

Ingels says the “double shell” system, which is filled with loose lunar dust, also provides extra protection from outdoor ladder work, radiation and meteorites.

In addition to living and working places for astronauts, the lunar platform should connect landing pads, roads and storage sheds. Ingels says that human existence in space has so far “dominated engineering.” He hopes that as many industries work together, the moon will become the “permanent aspiration” in the design and engineering marvel of the first permanent system.

Gateway to the galaxy

NASA began exploring 3D printing as a space construction technology 3D-printed Habitat Competition Both SEArch + and ICON participated in the initiative, with SEArch + taking the lead in its design. Mars X House.
Nosa’s first step toward lunar orbit as Artemis launches next year “Gateway, “A space station in lunar orbit, says spokeswoman Claire Skelly. The astronauts will live and work on the spacecraft to the gateway and to the moon, staying. In their landers Up to a week.
ICON's 3D-printer, Vulcan, paints the exterior of a one-story building at a time. It can print up to 500 square feet in 24 hours.

ICON’s 3D-printer, Vulcan, paints the exterior of a one-story building at a time. It can print up to 500 square feet in 24 hours. debt: Icon

However, its goal is a permanent base from which to explore the moon in more depth and test technology for human survival in space. Skelly says NASA wants to build facilities to house four astronauts for up to a month. This is an essential first step for Mars.

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Skelly says it has not yet been decided whether to build a lunar habitat using 3D printing, but that “NASA could provide additional funding for the icon” and give the company the opportunity to test its technology on the lunar surface.

Using moon technology on Earth

Ballard is also optimistic about the earthbound potential of the technology. He hopes Project Olympus’ findings will help solve the global housing crisis.

As a relatively new technology, there is no definitive data on the benefits of 3D printing in construction. However, a 2020 Review This can reduce construction waste by 30% to 60%, reduce labor costs by 50% to 80% and reduce construction time by 50% to 70%, making the building cheaper, faster and more sustainable.
In order to create a community housing community for people who lost their homes in natural disasters, Icon had its first 3D construction project with a non-profit new story in Mexico.

In order to create a community housing community for people who lost their homes in natural disasters, Icon had its first 3D construction project with a non-profit new story in Mexico. debt: Joshua Perez / Icon

While technology is currently being used extensively in Bespoke projects, Ballard believes the opportunity to use “crude, more direct, local materials” could open up more opportunities for 3D construction – which will transform into some 1.6 billion People who still need adequate housing on earth.

“It’s a funny thought, but it could turn out that the answers to our problems on Earth are on the Moon or Mars,” he says.

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