It’s a common fixture in science fiction for bases and colonies to exist on the moon. Unfortunately, the major drawback to such a plan is how to get enough materials onto the lunar surface to build a practically-sized habitation, without it costing the earth. One idea which is currently gaining traction is the use of 3D printers.

MoonbasePhoto: ESA/Foster and partners

The idea is based around using a huge scale model of a 3D printer, and using it to construct a moon base from, well, the moon. Such printers which currently exist function by repeatedly spraying layer upon layer of plastics until a complex shape is formed, one which would be near impossible to cast by any other method.

The intention is to use a mixture of fine lunar material and magnesium oxide to form the “paper” of the printer, and then a type of binding salt solution as the “ink”, to form it into a stone-analogous substance.

Monolite, the UK based company behind the technology, has expressed hopes that their next generation printer model, the type to be used in the construction of the base, would be able to build at a rate of 3.5 metres an hour, as opposed to the 2 metres an hour the current model manages, enabling the compound to be completed within a week.

The current intention would be to use the moon base as a pit-stop for deep space exploration, where, if the lunar project proves a success, similar technology could be used to print off copy colonies on Mars and other such suitable destinations. They would be ideal for protecting long-term explorers from micro-meteorites and cosmic radiation, dangers present on planets lacking the thick atmosphere needed to disintegrate smaller space-borne debris, and magnetospheres to deflect radiation.

With prospective plans for manned missions to the Red Planet in the 2030s, the moon could prove to be an ideal testing ground for other such technologies. If the printed lunar colony turns out to be good quality, it could quickly become commonplace.