The Latest in Moon Habitat Technology: Bigelow's Inflatable Moon Base, Or Just Use Dini's 3D Printer

The Latest in Moon Habitat Technology: Bigelow's Inflatable Moon Base, Or Just Use Dini's 3D Printer


April 30, 20105:38 PM MST

Even as the Obama Administration reduces America’s commitment to manned space missions, Japan, China, Brazil, Russia and the European Space Agency are moving full-steam ahead with plans to colonize the Moon, Mars and various mineral-rich near-Earth asteroids.


For a variety of reasons many countries see the Moon as the logical first step in their space exploration efforts, just as the US did 40 years ago. Scientists like geologist Dr. Harrison “Jack” Schmitt claim that the Moon’s surface possesses an abundance of the isotope helium-3, the key to the second generation of fusion reactors projected to produce vast amounts of electricity. Because the Moon’s gravitational pull is much lower than Earth’s, it would be advantageous for work crews servicing Earth-orbiting satellites such as Japan’s proposedSolar Power Satellite that could provide energy to 300,000 homes to be based on the Moon. Certainly, the Moon is a perfect setting for humans to develop the skills needed for future space expeditions to Mars, near-Earth asteroids, and other celestial destinations.


For a Moon mission to be successful it is crucial that those engaged in long term lunar mining and exploration missions be housed in safe, comfortable, and dependable habitats. In 1969 the LEM, the craft that transported Neil Armstrong and company to the Moon’s surface, also served as their living quarters for the few days they spent on the Moon. Tomorrow’s miners and colonists will need a Moon baseconsisting of multi-purpose structures that can house them for months at a time.


Two inventors have offered very divergent though equally imaginative designs for a future Moon base. Space hotel visionaryRobert Bigelow is designing inflatable modules capable of housing up to 18 astronauts. His moon base consists of three inflatable units, each offering 11,653 cubic feet of space and equipped with its own independent power and propulsion and units. The three modules would be joined together not on the lunar surface but in lunar orbit, and would then be flown down to the Moon’s surface.


The next idea incorporates a technology, the 3D printer, which is currently being used here on Earth to construct a variety of relatively modest objects such as ashtrays, bowls, and small models of cars and other products. Italian inventor Enrico Dini wants to use an oversized 3D

printing machine to construct a Moon habitat! And evidently the European Space Agency is taking his proposal seriously.




Dini’s device works much like any other 3D printer. A designer sits at a computer running CAD (computer-assisted design) software and enters on the screen a blueprint for an object, an ashtray, for instance. This program than “instructs” thousands of nozzles attached to the D-shaped printer to discharge ultra-thin layers of sand which are bound together with a magnesium-based resin.


Like mWhat makes Dini’s Moon base concept so audacious is the gargantuan scale of the project. Dini has already created some imaginative life-size sculptures with his oversized printer. He speculates that his machine is already capable of fabricating an entire house from sand, and four times faster than standard construction technology. agic, the machine manufactures an extremely hard and durable ashtray.




So if you can fabricate a house, he reasons, why not an entire Moon base? In his scenario the printer, situated on the Moon, would robotically construct the habitat out of the dust found on the lunar surface, and complete the project before the astronauts actually touch down on the lunar surface.




Once on the Moon our space pioneers should find other uses for Dini’s machine. Space explorers, miners and colonists will often be required to invent and construct a host of implements literally on the spot. For instance, workers performing mining operations on the Moon might discover that they require new types of tools not yet invented. Since the 3-D fabrication technology enables the user to create whatever object he or she can imagine, our miners need only design those tools on a computer screen, and the 3-D printer manufactures them. Similarly, they could fabricate engine parts, furniture, and other items they find are necessary for mission success.




The fact that the Bigelow and Dini proposals are receiving serious consideration from such entities as NASA and the ESA clearly illustrates the crucial role civilian inventions and ingenuity will play in future government space missions. It is only a matter of time before the private sector’s space technologies rival those being created by the government and the military.




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