Nebula Public Library

The knowledge bank of ESA’s R&D programmes

Conceiving a lunar base using 3D printing technologies.

Programme Reference
Start Date
End Date
Conceiving a lunar base using 3D printing technologies.

Several studies have addressed the building of a lunar base either under ESA or other space agencies and entities. These studies have looked at conceptual designs, often of one specific element of the base, while most of the requirements are not adequately or not at all taken into consideration.

Logistics remains one of the major constraints in long-term human space missions. Space agencies have shown great interest in the utilisation of lunar resources as the next logical step in implementing a global strategy for human exploration of the Solar System. The key to any sustainable presence in space is the ability to manufacture, in situ and on-demand, the structures, items and replacement parts that are required. The production of goods locally reduces the cost and volume of long-duration missions.

Additive layer manufacturing is a promising solution because it reduces the lead time from design to implementation, and manufacturing waste due to the recyclability of in situ materials.

This activity studied the feasibility and implementation effort required in establishing the possible uses of additive manufacturing in easing the construction, expansion, operation and maintenance of a lunar base. The objective of this activity was to study the possible uses of additive manufacturing (3D printing) in a lunar base perspective.

The URBAN study performed two parallel surveys looking into the capabilities of the additive layer manufacturing technique to meet set goals. One was concerned with the identification of hardware parts required for a permanent human-tended lunar base, ranging from large-scale permanent infrastructures to smaller on-demand items, and the feasibility of 3D-printing these different elements wa investigated. The other survey included an analysis of state-of-the-art additive layer manufacturing technologies and an assessment of their capacity to 3D print several materials such as metals, polymers, ceramics, concrete, food ingredients, and living tissues. An objective of the project is to explore the possibility of recycling elements that have become obsolete in a lunar station of the future, by using them as printing material for the construction of new objects. While such technology is primordial for the construction of a lunar base in the future, ESA and the URBAN consortium foresee terrestrial spin-offs for the project.

Executive summary