There is still time to colonize the Moon, but that doesn't stop space agencies from preparing. ESA, European Space Agency, started a joint project. With partners Incus, OHB System AG and Lithoz GmbH it will develop and test 3D printing in a microgravity environment reminiscent of the Moon.
The project stems from the need to supply spare parts without having them leave the Earth. It uses recycled powders from scrap metal already available on the Moon to produce new materials.
The process Metal Manufacturing (LMM) is a form of 3D printing technology for creating advanced metal parts using the principle of light curing. It could be a very sustainable type of 3D printing for this specific application.
3D printing in space from scrap metal
Lithographic techniques allow for the combination of high-precision 3D printing with high-performance metals and ceramics, while remaining extremely resource-efficient. Although these concepts have been successfully demonstrated on Earth, they need to be implemented and tested in a space environment as well.Martin Schwentenwein, Head of Materials Development at Lithoz.
The project will last a total of 18 months. It will serve to evaluate the feasibility of processing the metal scrap available on the lunar surface. The goal, as mentioned, will be to produce a high quality final product using an ecological zero waste process.
If successful, future missions to the moon will significantly reduce their dependence on Earth for everything from habitat creation to research material.
Self-sufficiency mission (or almost)
Successful 3D printing tests in space from scrap metal is just the beginning. The success of this project will enable the future lunar settlers to 3D print everything they need for their travels, carrying fewer materials with them in their spaceship.
This will make them independent and resourceful and make trips to the moon easier and lighter as the basic materials will not have to be transported from Earth but will be created right on the Moon.