London: The European Space Agency (ESA) is exploring the possibility of establishing a permanent lunar base with the help of 3D printing technology.
Setting up a lunar base could be made much simpler by using a 3D printer to build it from local materials, ESA said.
Industrial partners including architects Foster + Partners have joined ESA to test the feasibility of 3D printing using lunar soil.
"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," said Pambaguian.
Foster + Partners devised a weight-bearing 'catenary' dome design with a cellular structured wall to shield against micrometeoroids and space radiation, incorporating a pressurised inflatable to shelter astronauts.
A hollow closed-cell structure - reminiscent of bird bones - provides a good combination of strength and weight.
The base's design was guided in turn by the properties of 3D-printed lunar soil, with a 1.5 tonne building block produced as a demonstration.
"3D printing offers a potential means of facilitating lunar settlement with reduced logistics from Earth," added Scott Hovland of ESA's human spaceflight team.
"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," said Hovland.
"As a practice, we are used to designing for extreme climates on Earth and exploiting the environmental benefits of using local, sustainable materials," said Xavier De Kestelier of Foster + Partners Specialist Modelling Group.
"Our lunar habitation follows a similar logic," said De Kestelier.
The UK's Monolite supplied the D-Shape printer, with a mobile printing array of nozzles on a 6 m frame to spray a binding solution onto a sand-like building material.
The 3D 'printouts' are built up layer by layer - the company more typically uses its printer to create sculptures and is working on artificial coral reefs to help preserve beaches from energetic sea waves.