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Conceiving a lunar base using 3D printing technologies.

Thu, 12/09/2021 - 09:43
Start Date: 
End Date: 
Programme Reference: 
OHB System AG

Several studies have been addressing the building of a lunar base either under ESA or other space agencies and entities initiatives. These studies are looking 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 as one of the major constraints in long-term human space missions. Space agencies have shown great interest in the utilization 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.

ESA has awarded a General Studies Programme activity, under Contract 4000122380, to the URBAN Consortium (Comex, Liquifer Systems Group, Sonaca Space GmbH under the coordination of OHB System AG) to evaluate 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 is to study the possible uses of Additive Manufacturing (3D printing) in a lunar base perspective.

The URBAN study performs two parallel surveys looking into the capabilities of the additive layer manufacturing technique to meet set goals.

One is 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. The feasibility of 3D-printing these different elements are investigated.

The other survey includes 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.

Application Domain: 
3d printing
Executive summary: