A masters level student is working with a team at the European Space Agency’s European Astronaut Centre (EAC) in Germany to explore the potential for 3D printing with materials readily available on the Moon to create a sustainable human presence.
In what the Swedish student describes as a “low-tech approach to a high-tech situation,” Billy Grundström is working with Spaceship EAC‘s advanced manufacturing team to 3D print parts using simulated Moon dust – or to use its less fancy name, lunar regolith – and biomaterials to investigate the possibility of manufacturing construction items on the Moon’s surface.
ESA has already developed a number of ways to utilise regolith, but this latest work focuses on further processing the material to increase its stability so that it may be used as a concrete substitute for building on the Moon and eliminate the need to transport materials from Earth.
EAC has produced its own regolith simulant called EAC-1A that mimics the properties of the Moon-based material. Taking that simulant, Grundström’s has added an algae-based bio-additive and water to create a 3D printable material that’s already said to be showing promising results in early labs tests. The hope is that in future, the algae could be grown in bioreactors on the Moon as part of a fully integrated circular ecosystem.
In a blog post from ESA, Grundström commented: “It would of course be exhilarating if something based on my project were to be used to manufacture structures on the Moon. However, to advance takes the work of many over an extended period of time. I can’t wait to see what methods come next.”
Grundström also said that the project could inspire similar solutions here on Earth by recycling materials we have readily available to reduce reliance on valuable resources.
3D printing advancements in space continue to be explored for both on and off-Earth applications. In another ESA-backed project, a team of aerospace engineering students from Munich University of Applied Sciences are using ViscoTec’s vipro-HEAD printhead to carry out zero-gravity 3D printing experiments, while Sabrina Kerber recently reported from a two-week simulation in which she investigated how polymer 3D printing could be used to improve life on a moonbase. Meanwhile, in metals, Relativity Space and 6K announced a partnership last month that will see scrap materials turned into powder that will then be used to additively manufacture rocket components. The significance of the technology in this area was further amplified in the recent acquisition of Made in Space, the on-orbit manufacturing startup known for being the first company to successfully 3D print parts in space.