Science fiction is soon to become reality thanks to the European Space Agency (ESA), whose team of scientists and engineers are working to realize the technology needed to help humans colonize Earth’s moon.
Plans are already underway to use two robots with 3D-printing arms that will be deployed on the moon to construct a lunar base in which up to four astronauts can live for extended periods of time, and paving the way for an expanded human colony.
ESA began this project in 2013, and has forged partnerships with several leading industrial and architectural firms like Foster + Partners, D-Shape, and Alta. Together, ESA is pursuing the development of 3D-printing robots that will use moon dust (regolith) to construct a protective barrier around an inflatable dome that will provide astronauts living in the lunar habit shelter from solar radiation, meteorites and extreme temperature fluctuations.
According to Scott Hovland, a member of ESA’s human spaceflight team, “The new possibilities this work opens up can then be considered by international space agencies as part of the current development of a common exploration strategy.”
The protective structure that will house the inflatable dome will be similar to the structure of a bird’s bones or a bee hive whose hollow closed-cell orientations provide a balanced mix of strength and weight. ESA’s 3D-printing robots will build this structure layer by layer using the regolith they will scoop up from the surface of the moon. Several demonstration blocks have already been built (see image to the left) to test the durability and feasibility of the method. Hovland also goes on to say, “3D printing offers a potential means of facilitating lunar settlement with reduced logistics from Earth.” Ensuring that most of the construction will take place on the moon will greatly reduce the need for multiple launches of supplies from Earth, which will help keep the project’s costs low.
The planned location of the settlement will be along the rim of the Shackleton Crater, situated at the south pole of the moon. The Shackleton Crater is the ideal place given the perpetual sunlight the area receives, which is key to ensuring a steady stream of solar power to keep the robots and the various components of the lunar habitat going.
Check out ESA’s information video below to get a sense of the agency’s vision of lunar habitation.
ESA plans to pull this off within the next 40 years, and if they succeed, this will no doubt mark the beginning of human interplanetary colonization.