The entire Apollo 11 mission to the moon only took a short, eight days to complete. If we were to ever feel the need to build permanent bases on the moon, then future astronauts would need a means of transporting materials from Earth and into space.
The question is how would they get hold of everything they need? Using rockets to transport equipment and supplies for building long-term settlements on the moon would be an expensive model.
Where 3D Printing Fits In
This is where 3D printing could be made useful. With the use of 3d printers, astronauts will be able to construct whatever is needed for their bases from raw materials. Much of the excitement around 3D printing in space has focused on using it to construct buildings from lunar rock.
3D printing or otherwise known as additive manufacturing, are the machines of the future that produce physical products of almost any shape simply by following digital design blueprints. This technology can already make things from a wide range of composite materials including metals, ceramics, woods and plastics. Some of these materials can be used to make space-grade equipment.
3D printing allows for more to get done with minimal human interaction. You can just set it to print and wait for the finished product, this leaves more time to get other things done. Many 3D printers can be used remotely. So, in theory, you could send a 3D printer to the moon before the astronauts, and it could start manufacturing structures before anyone has arrived.
There are, of course, obstacles involved. 3D printing has primarily been developed for use on Earth, it wasn’t really intended for use in space. 3D printers rely on certain levels of gravity and temperatures to operate as designed. So far, it uses materials significantly less complex than those found on the surface of the moon. So for us to fully be able to make the most out of extraterrestrial materials in 3D printing, we will have to undertake a lot of tests to see what works and what doesn’t.
Printing with Regolith
The moon is covered in regolith, which is a loose, powdery material formed from millions of years of meteors colliding with the moon. Once it has hit the surface of the moon, it slowly transforms the top layers of bedrock into a soil-like material. While you could use regolith for 3D manufacturing, for 3D-printed houses or even more basic components such as bricks and concrete you would need extra materials from Earth to mix such as liquid binders.
In knowing that we can make use of materials sourced from the moon, and be able to build bases and other structures, it will be easier for scientists and astronauts when travelling on space missions because they will be able to easily print whatever they need without having to wait for it to be made down on Earth and then sent up into space.
This also allows them to use 3D printing technology not only to build bases and other structures, but certain medical supplies can also be manufactured in the case of an accident.
What are your thoughts on 3D printers being used to build structures on the moon so we can further investigate this vast universe? Let us know in the comment section below!