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back to article ESA proposes 3D printing on the moon

One of the challenges with constructing a moon base is the extravagant expenditure needed to boost the necessary materials from Earth. The European Space Agency is now considering an alternative proposal: feeding moon rock to a 3D printer. Architecture firm Foster + Partners has designed a concept demonstration suggesting it …

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FAIL

more techo-wanking

I've said it before and I'll keep repeating it until this idiocy stops. 3D printing on the moon is a stupid idea. It relies on liquids - exactly what we don't have in abundance on the moon. A far more sensible approach would be to use a cnc router to carve out your habitats. But of course that's not fashionable is it.

This whole 'Let's use 3D printing for everything' is simply techno-wanking.

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Re: more techo-wanking

Repeating it might not be enough. You probably need to address the points that (a) this article indicates that liquid isn't that important and (b) there may be enough liquid on the moon for what we need to do anyway.

I do like your idea of a CNC router, but I think 3D printing will also be useful, and I'm not sure why you seem to be so annoyed by it. Of course there's hype, but behind most hype there is at least something worth talking about.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: more techo-wanking

@JHW - If you insist

(a) Liquid is important. I quote from the original report '"The process is based on applying liquids but, of course, unprotected liquids boil away in vacuum," said Giovanni Cesaretti of Alta." So you need liquids and they are important - important enough that they developed a method of ensuring they wouldn't boil away.

(b) No there aren't enough liiquids on the moon for this. We can't even be sure there's enough to sustain life let alone enough to waste on buildings. Any liquid (read water because that's all we are worried about) will be used first to sustain life. Any left over will be used for fuel. Only an idiot would waste it on buildings just because you've got a hard-on for a particular technology.

I'm annoyed because (IT relevance alert) this is exactly the same sort of idiocy - latching onto the latest fashionable bandwagon and proposing it as the Solution To Everything(tm) - that afflicts the IT industry on a depressingly regular basis.

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Re: more techo-wanking

No, it's not a fashionable bandwagon, it's a potential solution to a lot of things. 3D printing, like, say, QR codes or cloud computing or electricity, is a remarkable and general-purpose technology looking for problems to solve. What's wrong in that? Nobody thinks it will solve all problems. This is not a Star Trek replicator. But it's a flexible enough idea that the general principle can be adapted to many different purposes. Some will work, some will not. But it's still ripe for research.

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Re: more techo-wanking

You're still going to need a binder, regardless of whether the structure is 'printed', or cast. Agreed, 3D printing is over-hyped, especially when people propose it will replace typically moulded objects, but current buildings on earth are usually made of pre-made parts- be them bricks, steel beams or entire 'portacabins'- with additional cast concrete. Without a convenient builder's merchants nearby, '3D printing' is a suitable method. Caterpillar have researched it for terrestrial buildings.

Even if you are going to make a moon cave your habitat, you will still need to seal it- some sort of inflatable membrane that is then cured, perhaps- but that would probably have to be bought from Earth.

If you used a solar furnace, it might be possible to build a structure layer by layer by vitrifying lunar power. This would be akin to to selective laser sintering, an 'additive manufacturing' (akin to 3D printing) process used on Earth. This wouldn't require a binder. I don't know if it is possible, but a quick search turns up a PDF suggesting that lunar material has been sintered by meteorite impacts.

Or maybe robots that attach to iron rich asteroid and over (much) time direct them to the moon might be a way of getting appropriate materials.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: more techo-wanking

@JH - research is all well and good but building lunar habitats using 3D printing is one idea that is so obviously dumb that wasting taxpayers money looking at it ought to be considered fraud.

Here's a challenge for you or anyone who thinks this is a good idea. Describe how you imagine 3D printing of lunar habitats would work and why 3D printing would be the most efficient way of doing this. Consider the total cost of the exercise including what liquid you would use and where it would come from. Also explain what the benefits are of surface construction over tunnelling and how you imagine shielding would work. Remember we're considering 3D printing here, not shotcrete or other similar construction techniques. Pretend I'm an angel investor, give me your best pitch and prove me wrong.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: more techo-wanking

@Dave 126. If you use a router or other carving implement you don't need any binder. One area I'm not sure of is whether you need mortar in a vacuum. If not then carve out blocks and build igloo's. Otherwise try tunnelling. Anything that doesn't need water or other non-lunar consumable is good.

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Re: more techo-wanking

"A far more sensible approach would be to use a cnc router to carve out your habitats"

or use a plasma drill, which could carve out rooms underground and turn molten matter into fortified walls in one pass. can use excess energy to sustain plasma convertor and have lots of excess energy to power entire base.

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Re: more techo-wanking

On "solar furnace and sintering" - see what Markus Kayser does with sand in a desert on earth. No liquids, though lots of dust/sand needed. It would obviously need scaled up...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tsk-24UYFs0

(T'was posted in a comment on the phys.org link from the article)

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Re: more techo-wanking - Markus Kayser video

In the close-up shots of the powder fusing, I have the feeling that a low melting point binder powder has been added to the sand. Anyone else think that?

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FAIL

Re: more techo-wanking

The rock on the moon is porous, just like most rock here on Earth!

Yes if you cut tunnels into the surface of the moon this is beneficial as your habitat can have a greater mass helping to provide greater protection.

The weakness is that you need material (just as tunnelling here on Earth) to reinforce the structure and critically on the Moon, make it air tight.

The reason from ESA's perspective that this is beneficial, is that they (in theory) can regulate the material added and prevent weaknesses in the structure that may potentially expose the inhabitants to the Moon's virtually non-existent atmosphere.

I think a more logical solution is to take the proposed technology to one of the many discovered lava tubes (probably extinct ;) ) and reinforce the internal structure there.

You'd have the benefits of a tunnel, without needing a TBM and a low cost (relatively) solution.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: more techo-wanking @Dave 126

I like that 'laser sintering' idea!

focussing solar rays into a laser like beam has already been done, so yes this is a great idea...

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Re: more techo-wanking

Problem with any type of cutting (like the CNC router) is going to be cooling it: although the moon is pretty cold there's not much atmosphere to dissipate the heat. Traditionally, cooling would be done with water, and that would need a lot more of it than making cement or printing like this.

Laser sintering might work, but again stuff is going to get pretty hot with no breeze to carry the heat away.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: more techo-wanking

@peter ford. I think that's only a problem if you contemplate evaporative cooling. If you use radiative cooling you might,depending on design, only need a small amount of fluid for heat transfer. Research that answered this question would be far more useful than playing around with 3D printers.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: more techo-wanking

@anodomini2 you mean the surface rocks that we brought back are porous. You know, the ones thown up as a result of impacts. No one knows how strong the substrate is yet. Even then, porous doesn't mean structurally unsound. It simply means we may need a membrane to make it airtight. Yes that'd need to be shipped up but I've got money that says it'd weigh less than the binder, support infrastructure and spares for a 3D printer.

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Re: more techo-wanking

Yes a membrane would help with sealing, but the structure still needs to be safe and the interior needs to be usable.

It's no good if you're tripping over ridges and out crops all the time.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: more techo-wanking

@annodomini2 - I'm not questioning the basic requirements for a good structue, i'm questioning the benefit of using 3D printing to achieve the outcome. If you want to tunnel out a cavern and line it with shotcrete then fine, but that's not 3D printing .. Unless of course, any additive construction technique is now 3D printing .. In the same way any hosted IT service is now 'The Cloud(tm)'.

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Re: more techo-wanking

CNC router in common usage means a supported head and translating table, one axis translation on the table (x) and two on the head (y and z) or fully translating head over a table. Great ideas in a shop environment where the material handling is left to other machines and people. A really bad idea along with the 3D printer to build any large structure on the moon.

What is needed on the moon, or the Atlas Mountains in Moroco is a fully translating head on a tripod or similar mount with active telescoping legs and a capability to lift and move the material.

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Re: more techo-wanking

Another name for 3D Printing is additive manufacturing, so a robot spraying shotcrete only for tunnel linings is not a 3D Printer, but if it can do other things, such as surface structures then it is.

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Moon Base made of Basalt...

I welcome Moon Base Alpha...

(Funny thing is is that I watched 2 or 3 episodes of Space: 1999 yesterday.

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Re: Moon Base made of Basalt...

Just as long as they keep the printer away from the nuclear waste.

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WTF?

Inflatable

I thought the plan was for inflatable buildings?

If you needed to you could even spray them with some form of cement to form a protective out coating.

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Re: Inflatable

I think it is based on inflatable buildings, and they are spraying it with some form of cement - that's what the "printer" is doing - but a cement made of moon rock.

The difference is all they need to take to the moon is the binding agent, the base material is free in effect.

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Mushroom

M2.2 here we come

See title

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printing from lunar soil?

Well that's just fines.

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FAIL

Mechanical Parts vs Lunar Soil

Just how long would that printer last with all the extremely abrasive dust which is everywhere and very clingy getting into the printer? Tunneling as the basis for the beginning of a lunar base has to be the only answer, someone said plasma drill? How are you going to power it? I think first shelters will have to be the traditional tin can type buried under lunar soil for thermal and radiation protection. After you build a quick dirty set of surface shelters you can begin tunneling for permanent structures. IF after you have that set you you can begin building on the surface with whatever means and materials you find or can haul up there.

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Re: Mechanical Parts vs Lunar Soil

"Tunneling as the basis for the beginning of a lunar base has to be the only answer, someone said plasma drill? How are you going to power it?"

the beauty of plasma is it has plasma convertor at its basis, and after initial power up needs (which could be provided by a solar reactor) it is self-powered as long as you supply matter for conversion. conversion produces syngas and molten slag, syngas can be used to power gasturbines = power source. basically to self-sustain it needs about a third of energy it can produce.

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robots

Does anybody know if sending up robots to the moon to build a base station would work? I imagine that we possess the necessary know-how to build sufficiently robust robots to cut rock as building blocks and lay them in an architecturally structural manner in order to erect the superstructure of a moonbase.

That being said, I wondered why the Japanese didn't send robots into the stricken nuclear power plant in Fukushima. It can't be that there weren't any available. I reckoned in the end, that TEPCO valued the robots over those poor buggers* assigned to handle the disaster.

* As in: you have brought shame to the company by being in the wrong place at the wrong time and by not challenging company policy. you will kindly sacrifice yourselves horribly so that the company may save some face.

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Boffin

Re: robots

The Moon is only 1.282 light seconds away, they can and have been controlled from Earth.

Nasa has those 2 robots on the ISS (internal and external), under test, for helping with repairs.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: robots

Last I heard they did and are sending robots in, BUT critically the robots were not designed for use in a nuclear power station. prone to break down

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Return of the cavemen

Before we learned how to build nice strong houses, we found nice cosy caves to live in.

Rather than 3D printing, making/carving then stacking igloo blocks or (major) tunnelling, why not just find a nice cosy moon-cave? Find one near the poles and there might even be some frozen water in the bottom of a nearby crater.

If the cave isn't airtight then perhaps an inflatable bladder can be used inside it. Or use a plasma-thingy or friggin laser beam to melt and fuse a layer of rock on the inner surface to seal it. Either way, the cave provides the structure plus protection from radiation. Not as sexy as Moonbase Alpha, though. Or even that of Moonbase 3 (a rather fine piece of British sci-fi that I got to see again on DVD recently, some 35 years or more after it originally screened on New Zealand TV).

I guess what we're looking for is more of a fissure or moonquake-crack, rather than a (underground-river-formed) "cave". There's got to be at least one such cave on the whole of the big wide moon, and looking for it using a swarm of low-flying satelites (more orbiting-then-crashing than flying, perhaps) has got to be cheaper than all this construction stuff? And then we become cave men once again.

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Coat

Dear Wickes

I require approximately ten thousand of your medium density breeze blocks at £1.48. Your web site fails to provide delivery costs to my location. Please advise costs and best delivery date.

Neil

Moonbase 1

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Coat

I can see the flaw in the design.

There is a huge hole in the side of the building... All the air is going to escape.

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Re: I can see the flaw in the design.

There's probably another hole around the other side where they pump more air in.

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Moon power

As I have said before about this idea, where are you going to get the power from to run the printer? You would need huge solar arrays to get sufficient power to fuse the material whether using a binder or by sintering. So you would need to build the power station first before you could build the buildings (anyone spot a catch 22 going on here).

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Thumb Down

Re: Moon power

The amount of energy required is dependent on how fast you want the machine to run, being a robot time is less of a consideration.

RepRap's typically run on about 100-150w (without heated bed), which is quite feasible with solar or an RTG.

Now obviously we have no figures for the current machine design, so a requirements analysis cannot be attempted without these numbers.

Space systems can be optimised to run more efficiently, due to the general funding advantage, this will help with feasibility.

The main issue won't be power, it will be all the other complex systems that will need to be built on Earth and shipped to the Moon that will drastically increase the cost and resultant viability of the operation.

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Re: Moon power

Power? If you use an aimed solar furnace, you just need a large convex mirror- probably made out of foil, plus mirrors for aiming. It doesn't have to be strong enough to withstand wind (there isn't any) and the structure can be lighter than an equivalent structure on Earth, due to the lower gravity. Erecting lightweight structures with high surface ares is something space engineers have some experience of- the whole shebang can probably be shipped in one unit and then unfurled, like an umbrella.

I'm not saying it will defiantly work, but it seems plausible.

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Re: Moon power

You only get light 14-15 days out of the month, albiet for the full period.

But night is also 14-15 days, so you'll have 2 weeks of no operation.

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Best Solution

The lack of surface water and air to conduct away heat is a great advantage. Solar collectors on the moon or in synchronous orbit can turn the loose rock and rock outcroppings into lava.

Lava can line pits dug into the surface to form components which then can assembled into surface structures. Subsurface areas can be coated with lava.

More surface regolith can be refined to make glass.

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Coat

You guys missed a chance on tht headline

Shouldn't that headline have read:

ESA proposes 3D printing ON THE MOOOOOOOOON!

Just sayin'.

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