Scientists at ESA have successfully 3D printed bricks using simulated moondust and a solar furnace, an advance that could allow humans to build settlements on the Moon in the future. “We took simulated lunar material and cooked it in a solar furnace,” said Advenit Makaya, who is overseeing the project for European Space Agency (ESA). “This was done on a 3D printer table, to bake successive 0.1 mm layers of moondust at 1000 degrees Celsius. We can complete a 20x10x3 cm brick for building in around five hours,” said Makaya.
As raw material, the test used commercially available simulated lunar soil based on terrestrial volcanic material, processed to mimic the composition and grain sizes of genuine moondust. The solar furnace focuses sunlight into a high- temperature beam to melt the soil grains together The resulting bricks have the equivalent strength of gypsum, the main constituent in many forms of plaster.
“For now this project is a proof of concept, showing that such a lunar construction method is indeed feasible,” said Makaya. ESA’s effort follows a previous lunar 3D printing project, but that approach required a binding salt. The new technique calls for only the 3D printer plus solar concentrator to be conveyed to the Moon “For a mission like building a base on the Moon surface, in-situ resource utilisation will certainly be one of the most important enabling technologies,” said Tommaso Ghidini, who heads ESA’s Materials and Processes.