Foster + Partners is part of a consortium set up by the European Space Agency (ESA) to explore the possibilities of building on the moon, with the aid of 3D printing technology.
The practice designed a lunar base to house four people, which can offer protection from meteorites, gamma radiation and high temperature fluctuations.
The base’s design was guided by the properties of 3D-printed lunar soil, with a 1.5 tonne building block produced as a demonstration.
“Terrestrial 3D printing technology has produced entire structures,” said Laurent Pambaguian, heading the project for ESA.
“Our industrial team investigated if it could similarly be employed to build a lunar habitat.”
Addressing the challenges of transporting materials to the moon, the study is investigating the use of lunar soil, known as regolith, as building matter.
The base is first unfolded from a tubular module that can be transported by space rocket. An inflatable dome then extends from one end of this cylinder to provide a support structure for construction. Layers of regolith are then built up over the dome by a robot-operated 3D printer to create a protective shell.
To ensure strength while keeping the amount of binding ‘ink’ to a minimum, the shell is made up of a hollow closed cellular structure similar to foam.
Xavier De Kestelier, Partner, Foster + Partners Specialist Modelling Group, said: “As a practice, we are used to designing for extreme climates on earth and exploiting the environmental benefits of using local, sustainable materials – our lunar habitation follows a similar logic.
“It has been a fascinating and unique design process, which has been driven by the possibilities inherent in the material. We look forward to working with ESA and our consortium partners on future research projects.”
The planned site for the base is at the moon’s southern pole, where there is near perpetual sunlight on the horizon.
The consortium includes Italian space engineering firm Alta SpA, working with Pisa-based engineering university Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna.
Monolite UK supplied the D-Shape printer and developed a European source for lunar regolith stimulant, which has been used for printing all samples and demonstrators.