As a new era of space exploration seems to be dawning, and as we plan the exploration of Mars and deeper space, it’s only natural to make plans to go back to the Moon and use our natural satellite as the launchpad for our future interplanetary traveling.
However, the European Space Agency (ESA) wants to do more than just go back, and has presented its plan to construct a “Moon Village.” The habitat would be 3D printed directly on the Moon using lunar soil and will be assembled by robots.
ESA’s colony idea was confirmed last month at a two-day conference in the Netherlands. The conference, entitled “Moon 2020-2030 - A New Era of Coordinated Human and Robotic Exploration”, had 200 scientists and experts came together to discuss and plan projects, technologies and missions for the next decade.
The envisioned lunar structure was designed by Foster + Partners, which is part of the consortium set up by ESA to investigate the possibility of a Moon base. The plan is to send a cylindrical structure to the Moon, and once landed a weight-bearing dome will inflate from this cylinder. The dome will be the central structure of the system.
The Moon’s soil will then be used to construct a protective shell around the dome, which will shield the astronauts from the dangerous background radiation. In 2013, the consortium demonstrated that it is possible to use lunar regolith to 3D-print a structure: Using simulated lunar soil (made from the basaltic rock of an Italian volcano) they built a 1.5 tonnes (1.65 tons) block.
Speaking to Space.com, one of the conference attendees, NASA’s Kathy Laurini, sounded optimistic about the European plans: "The ESA space-exploration strategy sets the moon as a priority destination for humans on the way to Mars, and the recent talk of a 'Moon Village' certainly has generated a lot of positive energy in Europe”
She added: "The timing is right to get started on the capabilities which allow Europe to meet its exploration objectives and ensure Europe remains a strong partner as humans begin to explore the Solar System."
The Moon Village would be built around the lunar south pole, where there is near-perpetual sunlight on the horizon. Possible sites will be explored by a 2020 lander mission from ESA and the Russian space agency, Roscosmos.