Architects Fosters and Partners have revealed designs for a building on the Moon that could be constructed from material already on its surface.
An inflatable structure would be transported from Earth, then covered with a shell built by 3D printers. The printers, operated by robots, would use soil from the Moon, known as regolith, to build the layered cover. The proposed site for the building is the southern pole of the Moon. It is designed to house four people and could be extended, the firm said.
In 2010 a team of researchers from Washington State University found that artificial regolith containing silicon, aluminium, calcium, iron and magnesium oxide could be used by 3D printers to create solid objects. The latest plans are the result of a collaboration between a number of organisations including the European Space Agency.
The consortium tested the practicalities of using a printer on the Moon by setting up a D-shape 3D printer, which are used to print very large house-sized structures, in a vacuum chamber with simulated lunar material.
'Fascinating and unique'
"As a practice, we are used to designing for extreme climates on Earth and exploiting the environmental benefits of using local, sustainable materials," said Xavier De Kestelier, a partner in the firm's specialist modelling group. "It has been a fascinating and unique design process, which has been driven by the possibilities inherent in the material."
Buildings on this planet by the architect firm include Wembley Stadium, the World Trade Center in New York and Beijing airport. Last week US company Deep Space Industries (DSI) announced plans to use asteroid material for manufacture by harvesting them and using 3D printers sent into space.
The company is also developing a bespoke 3D printer called MicroGravity Foundry for the purpose, it said, and hopes to be ready to start production by 2020.