Using a combination of lunar dust and lasers, the laser center in Hanover, Germany (LZH) and the space systems institute (IRAS) at Brunswick university of technology are trying to create a lunar colony using 3D printing. The new Moonrise laser system, due to be launched in 2021, will be integrated into the PTScientists unmanned lunar lander in Berlin and will be used to see whether it is possible to turn lunar soil into practical building materials.
As space agencies and private companies work to build long-term human outposts on the moon, there will be practical problems building habitats and other structures. The biggest problem, says the LZH, is the huge cost of getting the material to the moon, about 700,000 euros per kilogram.
The Moonrise laser printing system plans to use lunar resources as an alternative. Although still in the experimental stage, the 3-kilogram (6.6-pound) laser is designed to determine whether regolith or lunar soil can be turned into a building structure.
The team has spent nine months developing Moonrise's laser system, but says they not only need to get the core technology right, but also need to create a suitable synthetic version of the regolith to test on earth first. In addition, the laser needs to be engineered to handle the shock and vibration of sending it to the moon and the extreme temperatures it will encounter.
During planned tests on the lunar surface, lasers will be installed on the probe and then used to melt the regolith in a controlled manner to generate predefined shapes. High-resolution cameras will record the process and results.
Stefan Linke of IRAS said: "the direct proof of the plan is that we will be able to use existing hardware components to process lunar regolith, which is critical for planning future missions. So it's becoming possible to do larger, more sustainable projects on the surface of our cosmic neighbor."