The future is seemingly closer than once thought, if Foster and Partners recent partnership with the European Space Agency is to be a meter. Now, after years of progressively upping the scope to which we use 3D printing- from model making, to airplane parts, to organs, and now buildings, 3D printing is proving that it’s finally grown up. And it could truly be a game-changer. One of those Renaissance to Modern sort of jumps.

Courtesy of Foster and Partners & European Space Agency

The plans call for the use of a massive printer created by Monolite UK, named D-Shape. This large-scale printer is easily transported and can be assembled by only two people; it prints with sand and added proprietary catalysts, and produces a sort of artificial marble, with very little waste. This marble-like material is more structurally sound than Portland Cement, requiring no steel reinforcement and requiring very little manual labour. With this method, the partnership plans to print weight-bearing dome structures on the moon. The construction materials are sourced directly from the moon’s soil. Monolite UK founder Enrico Dini states “First, we needed to mix the simulated lunar material with magnesium oxide. This turns it into‘paper’ we can print with… Then for our structural ‘ink’ we apply a binding salt which converts material to a stone-like solid. Our current printer builds at a rate of around 2 m per hour, while our next-generation design should attain 3.5 meters per hour, completing an entire building in a week.”

Courtesy of Foster and Partners & European Space Agency

The structures will be printed with an internal geometry similar to a bird’s bone, with small, hollow cellular networks creating cumulative strength. An outer dome structure protects against solar winds and micro-meteorites, and will contain, incorporated within it, a pressurized living zone designed be Foster and Partners. As proof of concept, a 1.5 tonne test block was produced, showing the cellular structure and methodology.

Project info:
Designer: Foster and Partners
Client: European Space Agency
Additional Consultants: Consortium Lead and Space Engineering: Alta Spa Process Control: Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna 3D Print Technology: Monolite UK

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