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3D printing on the moon

New 3D printing machines are able transform sand and moon dust into super-strong objects and even buildings. This exciting technology has the potential to generate a new desert or even moon-based architecture.

Large and mobile printing machines such as those developed by d-shape get their orders from an attached computer. Like in any design office, a designer first draws a particular shape on a computer and sends the drawing to print. The printer itself is a large aluminium clad shed within which the printing process takes place.

The head of the printer is suspended from inside the structure and consists of a series of nozzles which spray an inorganic binding compound known as ‘structural ink’ onto sand – or sand-like materials such as gravel and, in theory, moon dust – which then solidifies over a period of 24 hours. The printing of a design starts from the bottom and moves upwards in layers of 5-10mm at a time.

Both concave and convex curves can be formed along with nearly any building components required from walls to stairs to decorative columns. The printed materials have a look and feel similar to marble as well as a strength and traction that is actually superior to Portland cement. Consequently, steel is not required to reinforce the printed buildings.

Aside from the obvious advantages of inexpensive (i.e. free) sand in the desert or dust on the moon, the technology eliminates the costs and logistical issues of transporting heavy and inflexible building materials such as cement or masonry blocks to isolated locations. Furthermore, the printer does most of the heavy lifting, so to speak, so it isn’t necessary to transport a manual labour workforce long distances in order to lay bricks or build scaffolds in a harsh or even entirely uninhabitable environment.

3D printing certainly seems to have the potential to become a viable, low cost building option for people around this world – and maybe others! You can read more about d-shape’s 3D printers here.

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