What Would You 3D Print on the Moon to Make it Feel Like Home?

3D printed food produced by the TNO research centre in the Netherlands, a member of the URBAN consortium investigating 3D printing in support of a lunar base. (Credit: TNO/URBAN)

PARIS, 20 July 2018 (ESA PR) — A new ESA-led project is investigating the ways that 3D printing could be used to create and run a habitat on the Moon. Everything from building materials to solar panels, equipment and tools to clothes, even nutrients and food ingredients can potentially be 3D printed. But if you were headed to the Moon, what would you want to 3D print, to turn a lunar base into a place that feels like home? Tell us your idea, to win a chance of actually getting it printed.

Global space agencies are focused on the concept of a lunar base as the next step in human space exploration – and 3D printing represents a key technology for making it happen.

Tommaso Ghidini, head of ESA’s Materials Technology Section, explaining the potential of 3D printing for space at the inaugural TEDxESA on 11 November 2015. Next to him can be seen a 1.5-tonne block printed from simulated lunar soil, used to explore the potential of 3D printing for establishing a lunar base. (Credit: ESA/Sarah Jane Muirhead)

The aim would be to ‘live off the land’ as much as possible, by printing as many structures, items and spares out of lunar regolith as possible, or by using and reusing materials brought for the mission, rather than continuously relying on the long, expensive supply line from Earth.

Sample items 3D printed in high-performance polymers, produced by a prototype printer designed to operate in weightless conditions, designed by a consortium led by German aerospace company OHB System AG with Portuguese 3D printing specialist company BEEVeryCreative. (Credit: BEEVeryCreative )

Maximised 3D printing would also allow on-demand production of items and spares with routine recycling of materials available within the base, making lunar settlement much more self-sufficient and sustainable.

Back in 2013 an ESA project proved the concept in principle, by printing a 1.5 tonne building block out of simulated lunar regolith with a binding ‘ink’. One follow-up effort used focused sunlight to sinter lunar bricks, while another demonstrated the possibility of using regolith as material for ’extrusion-deposition’. Currently under study is the idea of 3D printing living tissues for medical purposes.

3D printed ceramic items produced from simulated lunar regolith by Lithoz in Austria, a member of the URBAN consortium investigating 3D printing for a lunar base. (Credit: Lithoz/URBAN)

Our latest project looks at everything needed to undertake the construction, operations and maintenance of a lunar base; how could the various types of 3D printing meet those needs? Materials such as metals, plastic, concrete and organic substances are under study.

But to fully take account of the human factor, the project would also like to hear from you. What would be the one item you would like to have 3D printed to keep with you in a lunar home from home? Email your ideas to Lunar3Dprinting@esa.int, including a sketch and a short explanation.

The winners will have their chosen item printed for real – if technically possible – or else a 3D printed space object based on consortium research. Six runners up will receive a 3D printed space object.

Moon base (Credit: ESA)

The opening date of the competition is 20 July 2018 and the closing date is 23 September 2018, which is open to all ages and nationalities. Two winners will be chosen, one in the under 18 category and one in the Adult category, by the consortium members and ESA engineers.

Supported through ESA’s Basic Activities, this ‘Conceiving a Lunar Base Using 3D Printing Technologies’ project is being run by the URBAN consortium led by Germany’s OHB System AG, with extreme environments specialist Comex in France, Austrian space design company Liquifer Systems Group and spacecraft structures manufacturer Sonaca Space in Germany.