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Research Project Explores Potential of 3D-Printed Lunar Settlements [Video]

By Wesley Fenlon

Contour crafting can be used to create concrete walls for houses. A USC research project looks into using the technology to build a settlement on the moon.

3D printing already shouts "it's the future!" with its ability to bring real object creation into the home. There's only one way 3D printing could be more amazing: if it happened in space. Researchers at the University of Southern California apparently agree, as they've created a visualization of what contour crafting will look like on the surface of the moon. USC won a NASA grant to work on their proposal for a "Contour Crafting Simulation Plan for Lunar Settlement Infrastructure Build Up."

USC's researchers are exploring how we could use contour crafting--aka large-scale architectural 3D printing--to build houses on the moon. Here's the coolest part: contour machines will use the moon's land to produce building materials, eliminating the need to haul thousands of pounds of building materials out of Earth's atmosphere.

Contour crafting on the moon seeks to solve the greatest challenge of lunar construction: people. Every person sent into space requires oxygen, food, and space in which to live and sleep. Robots are much easier to send into space, by comparison. Contour crafting is a very real option for building structures on the moon, though it's just as applicable to construction here on Earth.

Impressive, right? This video takes the technology a step further by modeling what it would look like in a full-scale production. Our favorite part comes near the end, when the video suggests future structures could partially be constructed using recycled biodegradable substances.

Robotic printing mechanisms pour and shape concrete to build walls, quickly fabricating the bones of a house that can then be filled in by human workers. That does pose a bit of a problem for printing on the moon. It's great that these robots can melt down lunar dirt and rock to make their own concrete, but there's only so much they can complete without a human touch. We have to lay the tracks for the counter printers and fill in the fine details.

By the time we're ready to ship these robots to the moon and actually build a lunar colony, perhaps we'll be able to automate almost the entire process. In the meantime, contour printing offers a construction solution for overpopulated areas here on Earth. These machines could pump out houses in a matter of hours.