Australian Financial Review
How to print a house for the man on the moon
15th November, 2021
The architectural brief for a moon dwelling goes something like this: it has got to be tough enough to withstand showers of micro meteorites and lunar quakes, thick enough withstand electromagnetic pulses and radiation and comfortable enough to be home for humans for several months. Oh, and it has to be made of local materials.
Australian 3D printing technology company Luyten reckons it can rise to the challenge. Under the title of Project Meeka, Luyten is working with researchers at the University of NSW to design a printer light enough and robust enough to build a base on the moon.
3D-printed dwellings could be on the moon by the end of the decade.
Creating the base will require the use of lunar regolith – the substance on the moon’s surface.
“Humans have not been able to settle on the moon or transport materials capable of constructing some type of lunar settlement until now,” said Ahmed Mahil, co-founder and chief executive of Luyten.
“Our foldable 3D printer, which goes by the name of Platypus Galacticus, is light enough to be space worthy, so it can be transported to the moon at a reasonable cost and used to build a lunar settlement using lunar materials.”
The end product will not look like a traditional house. In what its creators describe as a “cylindrical ellipsoid kind of structure”, the base will be created by software on site using a foldable 70 kilogram printer that adjusts its design to the specific conditions of its location.
And it could be in use by the end of the decade, and eventually deployed on Mars.
Incredibly, Project Meeka has its foundations not in space travel but in creating low-cost, robust, highly efficient housing for Indigenous communities in remote central Australia.
“We were looking at how to create dwellings and structures for Indigenous communities where they endure extreme conditions,” Dr Mahil said. “It can be very cold at night and very hot in the day. We needed to be able to use local materials to reduce the ‘power tax’ on these buildings, or how to use less power to make them thermally efficient and safe at the same time.”
Mr Mahil said colonisation of the moon, and then Mars, was no longer the subject of science fiction and could happen as early as 2030.
Central to Project Meeka is the creation of building materials from lunar regolith, which is the substance that covers the moon and is rich in oxygen, silicates and iron.
Once a mission lands on the moon, a fleet of rovers equipped with ground-penetrating radars would scatter over previously identified potential building sites.
When the areas had been confirmed as having the required strength and stability, excavators would collect lunar regolith from the surface and deposit it on a reservoir.
From there, the material would be sorted so the ultrafine particles that are suitable for creating the building material can be separated. The finest regolith is then sintered into printable materials using concentrated microwaves.
Hank Haeusler, an architect and computational design expert from the University of NSW who is working with Luyten on developing the space dwellings, said each structure would be unique based on the precise conditions of its location.
“A 3D printer doesn’t care less if it doesn’t print the same thing over and over again. Computational design is customised, rather like a Savile Row suit for the cost of H&M jeans,” Dr Haeusler said.