Printing Space Habitats

3D printers work by extruding materials in patterns and building up layers of the material into three dimensional objects. The greatest cost of building structures in space is simply lifting the mass of the materials up out of the gravity well we live in. If materials to build with can be provided in space without having to be lifted into orbit, it becomes much more practical to build there. Materials are readily available on the nearby Moon and can also be obtained from nearby asteroids. The energy to process the materials is nearly free once solar panels are in place to collect it. Mass driving linear accelerators powered by solar energy can be used to move the materials to the desired building location. 3D printing techniques will be adapted to become more efficient and more versatile in zero-gravity and will be able to process and fabricate all kinds of materials; metals, ceramics, glass, composites, everything that is needed for building habitat living structures, life support mechanisms and propulsion engines for moving them.

Eventually, it will become obvious that instead of spending large amounts of time, effort and energy to bring building materials close to Earth, it is far more practical to go where the materials are abundant and start building there – the asteroid belt.

Print Your Own Space Station — in Orbit – [space.com]

Why build space station parts in factories here on Earth when they’re ultimately going to end up in space? And why use a factory at all when you can just crank those parts out with a 3-D printer?

A new company called Made In Space is posing these questions to the aerospace industry — as well as to potential investors. Made in Space wants to launch 3-D printers into orbit and use them to make parts for spacecraft and space stations, which would be assembled in zero gravity.

Three-dimensional printers make objects by sequentially depositing thin layers of “feedstock,” which can be metal, plastic or a variety of other materials.

Printing out parts in space would save a great deal of time and money, according to Made in Space. And the technology could eventually be transplanted to other worlds such as the moon, where it could help human colonies gain a foothold by printing out robot parts or buildings, piece by piece.

3-D Printing Device Could Build Moon Base from Lunar Dust – [space.com]

Dini’s D-Shape has created full-size sandstone buildings on Earth by using a 3-D printing process similar to how inkjet printers work. It adds a special inorganic binder to sand so that it can build a structure from the bottom up, one layer at a time.

The device raises its printer head by just 5 to 10 millimeters for each layer, moving from side to side on horizontal beams as well as up and down on four metal frame columns. Finished structures end made out of a marble-like material that’s superior to certain types of cement. The buildings do not require iron reinforcing.

Such a concept might help future lunar colonists live off the land, as well as provide thick-walled structures that protect against solar storms or micrometeorites.

Commercial moon mining to start in 2014

Astrobotic’s planned 2014 mission consists of a robot that would use a circular bucket wheel and a large bin to collect lunar soil for the inaugural attempt to mine the moon at its south pole, said Chris Skonieczny, Astrobotic’s principal researcher and a CMU doctoral candidate in robotics.

SEE ALSO:
Printing a Car
Stepping Stones to Space
Commercial Space Lift
Habitats
Reconfigurable Spacecraft
list of articles on “Asteroid Belt”

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