Sunday, March 24, 2013

Space agency readies robots to build moon base....

It seems that every week brings news of efforts to colonize or commercialize space, and this week is no exception. Today we're going to talk about unmanned robots being developed for the sole purpose of building shelters on the moon. It's important to note, these robots are NOT a whim or pie-in-space fanciful dream. They have already been commissioned and tested by the European Space Agency (ESA).

(Image: compliment of ESA)

So when would such a mission take place? Though no dates or time horizons have been announced, it seems we are talking about years not decades. If this concept moves forward, the moon base construction could conceivably be mankind's first permanent foothold on another world, a step that is being cheered by space enthusiasts around the globe.

In a moment, we'll talk about the specifics of not one but two types of automated moon-building robots that would take as little as a week to build a full-sized human shelter out of moon dust, but in the meantime let's talk about how this effort could fit into a much larger, much grander plan.

Elon Musk (founder of SpaceX, Tesla Motors, and Solar City) has set his sights on colonizing Mars with 80,000 people starting in 2023. The reason he bypassed the Moon is because it lacks enough frozen water and proper sunlight for a self-contained colony to survive easily. On the other hand, Mars has both in addition to a high nitrogen atmosphere that could support plants in a basic greenhouse right now. NASA is actually working on creating tough hybrid tomatoes and other plants that could withstand the high levels of Mars radiation and drastic temperature swings. You can see more about NASA's efforts here:

(Image: compliment of NASA)

The reason I wanted to segue to SpaceX's hop-skip over a Moon colony is that no one organization has to do it all. As a matter-of-fact, the only way space will be conquered is if we have dozens, maybe even hundreds of programs, missions, and commercial endeavors working in concert to create a sustainable human infrastructure in space. There are now at least two companies poised to mine asteroids in space, with one main goal being to process ice into hydrogen fuel, which can then be marketed to other space missions. Effectively, gas stations in space. Two companies have serious plans to colonize Mars. Another is poised to send tourists whirling around the red planet before returning them to Earth. Russia, Japan, China, and the European Space Agency have all indicated a desire to create colonies on the moon. Bigelow Space and a smattering of less serious companies have talked about orbiting hotels, and we of course know that the International Space Station is already in orbit with lots of plans for future missions. These are all potentially symbiotic steps towards our future among the stars.

3-D printers are considered one of the most exciting breakthroughs of the 21st Century. These wonders use detailed 3-D computer scans to recreate anything from a machine gear to art sculptures. A few weeks ago, an 83-year-old woman received a complete 3-D printed titanium lower jaw bone. She was chewing food less than 24 hours later. You can see more about her operation here:

(Image: compliment of ESA)

Effectively, these printers take a 3-d computer likeness and stack layers upon layers of any given material to perfectly duplicate that object in all three dimensions. In January of this year, the European Space Agency announced that they had commissioned international engineering firm Foster + Partners to develop a robotic, unmanned 3-D printer that could create moon shelters. The chosen printer is called a D-Shape and, by combining simulated lunar soil and magnesium oxide then binding it with structural salt, it has successfully created a material similar to stone or concrete, which can then be used to construct honeycomb like walls that would shield a moon base from meteorites and radiation. At three meters per hour, this wonder could complete a structure within a week. Several of them working together could build an entire lunar city in just a few months.

(Image: compliment of ESA)

However, there is one downfall to the D-Shape process. We would still need to deliver not just the printers but large quantities of magnesium oxide and salt to the moon. It can, of course, be done at a massive expense but what if there was a better way?

(Image: compliment of International Space University)

Space architects from the International Space University in France believe they have an alternate solution. They call it Project SinterHab. This is a concept that they have been working on since 2009 and, like the ESA project, it has already undergone extensive testing and seems quite possible. Effectively, the SinterHab project would still use a 3-D printing head, which they propose mounting on a NASA rover. But instead of using binding products shipped from earth, they would use solar energy to microwave the dust, effectively creating a form of ceramic. The obvious advantage is that once the robots are sitting on Lunar soil, work can potentially continue endlessly.

Lunar skyscrapers and traffic jams, anyone?

Of course, no matter how we mold these lunar shells, we will still need to import all manner of equipment to make the empty domes livable, but thanks to this 3-D futuristic printer technology we may soon have permanent boots on another world.

Would you move to the moon?



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  2. Amazing stuff! Will be shared

    1. Thanks, Jeff. It's always great to have you stop by. I'm always looking for new blog information, so if you run across something exciting, I'd love to hear about it :-)

  3. Replies
    1. Thanks for visiting, Penny. It is astounding how many space projects are underway. The human race is finally ready to break skyward :-)


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