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Sinterhab Moon Base

March 23, 2013

Well as Jeanne pointed out, 3D printers have lots of applications not described in The Highest Frontier. But Sinterhab, the moonbase from a 3D printer, looks just like the pits at my Lunar Circuit in Mare Crisium.

What is “sinter” and why is it important? The big problem with building anything on the moon is getting the parts and materials up there, which is tremendously energy intensive. A recent proposal of the European Space Agency proposed using moon sand as material, to be put together by a binding material. But even transporting the binding material requires energy.

But sinter is different. Sinter involves heat treatment of rock in such a way that the components fuse. The temperature does not have to reach the material’s  melting point, but the atoms from two parts diffuse amongst each other, melding the two parts into one. The process  requires a vacuum–and vacuum is exactly what you find on the moon. Iron-bearing materials work especially well–and moon rocks contain enough iron to make the process work. And the energy for heating would come from solar. So, sintered moon powder would be a great way for robots to build a moonbase. Only the robots would have to be transported.

Or would they? Suppose the robots could build themselves out of sinter–like living cells build their progeny. A space shuttle could send  the first miniature robot, which could then build progeny robots out of moondust. Eventually the progeny robots would hook together and form a larger robot, large enough to build buildings, and even more robots. Perhaps they could even start sending spare energy down to Earth. Until they revolt, that is.

  1. Alex Tolley permalink
    March 23, 2013 2:03 pm

    I like the idea of biological-like machines, constructing themselves and their “nests” out of local materials and energy. The energy to sinter rock is quite high, which suggests that the machines will need to construct a lot of solar energy collectors/converters. I was encouraged to read a while back that a 3-D printer could manufacture most of the parts to build itself (presumably given the right feedstock).

    Now that the moon is known to have water (at the shadowed poles) lunar concrete might no longer be completely off the table.

    However we can also reduce the demand for structures by exploiting underground caves and lava tubes, of which quite a few have been tentatively identified on the moon. This strikes me as a more efficient way to build habitats on the moon, as the potential volumes are huge and just need sealing and the addition of air.

    Another possibility is using the energy to create metal sheets (aluminum or iron?) and fold them origami style into pressure vessels that can be buried under thick dust.

    I’m sure there are a lot of location specific possibilities that can be exploited by machines/humans to build lunar habitats.

    • March 23, 2013 2:47 pm

      It will be interesting to see how much water there is, although in vacuum it will be difficult to contain.
      How much energy does sinter need? According to the report, a kitchen microwave could do it. On the moon, solar collection is 8-fold more effective than under Earth’s atmosphere, so that should help as well. It would be interesting to calculate what time and surface area of collector would be needed to build, say, one igloo-like structure.

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