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Manufacture the Moon: 3D Printing a Lunar Base

It’s impossible to ignore 3D printing as a novelty and for the many practical uses of the technology that arise as people begin exploring its use with limitless imagination. And here’s yet another way that 3D printing can be used both imaginatively and practically: to build a moon base.

Several months ago, the race back to the moon was reported by Wired. The race back to the moon has been propelled by enterprise. You can forget fossil fuels, precious metals and water. The driving force to return to the moon is to mine helium-3

The applications of a 3D-printed moon base could mean that it’s that much closer to reality, and helium-3 mining operations are that much closer, too. The reason that helium-3 is so valuable is because of what it might mean for the future of energy production. Helium-3 is a key component in realizing fusion energy, which is a cleaner and safer nuclear fuel that is non-radioactive.

How valuable is helium-3?

A shortage of helim-3 in 2010 caused prices to rise from $150 a liter to $5,000 a liter. The resource is used in a variety of ways currently, from medical applications to locating bombs. But its applications for energy production, if used in fusion energy, could be world-changing.

Mining the moon

When a Chinese Lunar Satellite took inventory of the moon in 2010, it was estimated that the moon held millions of tons of helium-3, an amount that would be enough to power the entire world for thousands of years if used in fusion energy. Consider the fact that one space shuttle worth of helium-3 could meet U.S. energy needs for an entire year. Fusion energy is speculated to become a reality by the middle of the century according to some MIT scientists.

3D printing a moon base

Mining operations would require some sort of lunar base and 3D printing could aid in this task.

Scott Hovland of the European Space Agency’s human spaceflight team told Space Safety Magazine, “The new possibilities this work opens up can then be considered by international space agencies as part of the current development of a common exploration strategy.”

ESA, along with the design group Foster+Partners, are exploring the idea of using 3D printing to construct a four-person moon base using lunar soil (regolith) as the printing material. Part of this base has already been developed here on earth using simulated moon materials, a mixture of silicon, aluminum, iron, calcium and magnesium oxide.

NASA in cooperation with Washington State University is also exploring 3D printing as a basis for developing a moon base.

For more information on lunar travel and moon-base building, check out some of these informative videos that we found:

Challenge of Digging on the moon

3D Printing in Space: Jason Dunn at TEDxEmbryRiddle

Google Lunar X Prize:  Moon 2.0

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