NASA exploring 3D printing on the moon?
It is 2012 and I’m a little disappointed that flying cars, living in gigantic submarine cities under the ocean and a cure for the common cold have so far all failed to materialise. At least the prospect of living on the Moon looks a little closer now with NASA working on a concept to send 3D printer equipped construction robots to the Moon.
With NASA’s budget having been severely diminished of late, the necessity of reducing the cost of new and existing missions has never been greater. The concept of a lunar outpost as a staging ground for other missions within the Solar System has long been discussed. However, it is prohibitively expensive to send construction materials, people and tools. That is, until a team of professors from the University of Southern California began questioning whether the Moon itself could be used in the construction. The concept they came up with is to use modified Athlete rovers developed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena to build basic structures with lunar concrete – until they are ready to be inhabited by people. The solution is to program the helper robots to collect and process concrete to do the bulk of the construction and leave the final stages of assembly for astronauts when they arrive. Thus saving vast quantities of fuel and money!
This process of 3D printing the concrete is called contour crafting. It is a similar process to Fused Deposition Modeling, like the process MakerBots and other similar 3D printers utilise. Material is processed and then extruded out via a CNC determined path.
David is an industrial designer from New Zealand. He contributes a weekly article on personal fabrication for Ponoko. You can follow him on Twitter @dizymac