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Plan to create 3D-printed moonbase unveiled

Posting in Architecture

We've put man on the moon. Perhaps setting up a 3D moonbase will be the next step.

There is some unusual uses for 3D printing. Everything from the revamp of food design to meat, printable robots or purchasing 3D replicas of yourself in place of taking photos. However, as one would expect, architecture and design have not overlooked the possibilities that this new technology introduces.

Janjaap Ruijssenaars from Amsterdam-based Universe Architecture has created the concept of an "endless" 3D printed house, created from slot-in components that can be printed and then reinforced at otherwise-weak joints. In addition, Studio Softkill recently announced a new concept design called Protohome which uses printed, fibrous pieces to construct a "web" rather than solid mass when building a home.

The European Space Agency (ESA) and architecture firm Foster + Partners have decided to jump on the 3D printing bandwagon, and are exploring the idea of using three-dimensional printing to create buildings -- but not on Earth.

Instead, engineering teams from both parties are investigating the properties of lunar soil, known as regolith, to see if this material could be used in order to print "bricks" for a moonbase -- solving the sticky issue of transporting construction materials from our planet.

Here's how the plan works in theory. A capsule, housing the 3D printer, is sent down to the moon's surface. Once landed, an inflatable dome which can house four people springs up as a base, and then layers of regolith are built up to cover the inflatable shape -- operated by a robot -- to solidify a protective shell.

Once complete, the moonbase should offer protection from meteorites, gamma radiation and high temperature fluctuations. The planned site for the new building is at the moon’s southern pole.

Luckily, regolith exists on earth too, and so preliminary tests have been underway. Researchers have created a 1.5 tonne mockup in a vacuum chamber to echo typical lunar conditions. Perhaps in the future this will be a way to begin further explorations of the moon while offering astronauts additional protection.

Image credit: Foster + Partners

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— By on February 1, 2013, 4:04 AM PST

Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure