Winning Ideas for 3D Printing on the Moon

A vision of a future Moon base that could be produced and maintained using 3D printing. (Credit: RegoLight, visualisation: Liquifer Systems Group, 2018)

PARIS (ESA PR) — While studying lunar base concepts ESA ran a competition, asking: what would you 3D print on the Moon, to make it feel like home? Responses came from all across the globe, and now two winners have been selected, both with ideas linked to nature.

The adult category was won by visual artist Helen Schell from the UK, proposing a ‘magic Moon garden’, printed from recycled coloured plastics.

The adult category of ESA’s lunar 3D printing competition was won by Helen Schell from the UK, proposing a ‘magic Moon garden’, printed from recycled coloured plastics. (Credit: Helen Schell)

“What’s missing on the Moon?” wrote Helen. “Colour and living plants. This is an idea for a colourful carpet of interchangeable colour and design, which can be moved and the scale changed wherever you want to site it in your lunar habitat.”

Like real flowers and plants, their 3D printed equivalents would be aromatic, to freshen the air, and perform the work of an air recycling unit changing carbon dioxide to oxygen. They would also ‘grow’ as each plant would be made up of smaller components that could be rearranged or added to over time, as if growing in nature.

The under 18 category was won by Judith de Santiago, a 17-year-old student from Madrid, Spain, who presented a dodecahedron (or 12-sided) plant pot – ideally for a real plant – that also incorporates symbols of distant Earth.

Plant pot for the Moon (Credit: Judith de Santiago)

“The blue curves of the bottom represent the waves of the sea,” wrote Judith, “and the green badge with a small plant located at the centre, inspired by Disney’s movie WALL·E, represents the Earth in general.”

Judith ensured her design was 3D printable by actually designing it in a 3D printing format.

The competition received more than a hundred entries from adults and children across the world with other ideas including a mobile lampshade to generate Earth-like colours, an hourglass filled with lunar dust, a glass model of Earth including realistic night lighting, proposals for statues and game boards – not to mention a few suggestions to print a 3D printer.

The idea for the competition came from an ESA-led project studying all the ways 3D printing could be used for the construction, operations and maintenance of a future lunar base: how could the various types of 3D printing meet those needs?

“This competition was a very good initiative to connect our study to the public, and gain insight into human factors involved in lunar settlement,” comments Advenit Makaya, overseeing the lunar 3D printing study.

“These entries give us an idea of what people living on the Moon would want from their everyday surroundings. Common themes that recur, such as to print items that resemble objects from nature, items linked to terrestrial hobbies and musical instruments, as well as reminders of loved ones back home – to help connect back to Earth and diminish any sense of isolation.”

Global space agencies are considering a lunar base as a possible next step in human space exploration, explains Advenit: “3D printing is one of the key building blocks for future space settlement, if we can find ways to make the stuff we need as we go along, rather than rely on costly resupply from Earth.

“And the Moon, at just a few days away from Earth, represents an ideal test case. Nobody else has run such a detailed system level study, looking at lunar 3D printing of everything from large infrastructure and building blocks down to tiny electronic components.”

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

  • Saturn1300

    The idea for the competition came from an ESA-led project studying all
    the ways 3D printing could be used for the construction, operations and
    maintenance of a future lunar base: how could the various types of 3D printing meet those needs?
    And no one 3D printed the instructions to the con test. Was there anybody that used the study?

  • I am, in general, against the 3D printing of habitats on the Moon primarily because it is diverting attention from the better early technology of inflatable habitats. Unlike 3D printed habitats, inflatables can be “constructed” in an afternoon by simply opening a valve of a tank of condensed air. It doesn’t require shipping binder. Doesn’t require a lot of energy to singer bricks or whatnot. Shielding does not have to be rigid so long as the inflatable’s roof is relatively flat. Also, the process of setting up the inflatable would be much less likely to break down than large 3D printing machines processing a large amount of regolith.

    There is an appropriate place for 3D printing early on and that is for complex parts using ISRU metals which cannot easily be made by other methods. But even then, 3D printed parts will probably make up a small percentage of the parts with even many of the complex parts being made using techniques of pouring molten metal into very precise molds.

    The coolness of 3D printing is no justification for neglecting other processes which are faster and use less complex approaches.

  • windbourne

    Agree about the 3D. Like software engineering, it is now a buzzword that has society has gone insane over.
    That is exactly why I say that we need to get private space stations going.
    We need these to be built and tested in full habitat mode, though obviously, things like Sinks, Toilets, Showers, washing machines, will have to be different.

  • Vladislaw

    “New Method for 3-D Printing Extraterrestrial Materials”

    “Partially supported by a gift from Google and performed at Northwestern’s Simpson Querrey Institute, the research was recently published in Nature Scientific Reports. Adam Jakus, a Hartwell postdoctoral fellow in Shah’s TEAM lab, was the paper’s first author.

    Shah’s research uses NASA-approved lunar and Martian dust simulants, which have similar compositions, particle shapes, and sizes to the dusts found on lunar and Martian surfaces. Shah’s team created the lunar and Martian 3D paints using the respective dusts, a series of simple solvents, and biopolymer, then 3D printed them with a simple extrusion process. The resulting structures are over 90 percent dust by weight.

    Despite being made of rigid micro-rocks, the resulting 3D-painted material is flexible, elastic, and tough — similar to rubber. This is the first example of rubber-like or soft materials resulting from lunar and Martian simulant materials. The material can be cut, rolled, folded, and otherwise shaped after being 3D painted, if desired.

    “We even 3D-printed interlocking bricks, similar to Legos, that can be used as building blocks,” Shah said.”

  • duheagle

    Private space stations seem the only likely place to practice fractional-G living before going to the Moon or Mars – except for the fact that the advent of SH-Starship is likely to enable actual expeditions to both places before a real rotating habitat of significant size is operating in LEO. In any case, sinks, toilets, showers and washing machines for use on the Moon or Mars won’t have to be too different from what we’re accustomed to Earthside.