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SinterHab concept calls for a sustainable moon base made from baked lunar dust


March 18, 2013

The proposed SinterHab moon base would consist of bubble-like compartments coated in a protective layer of melted lunar dust

The proposed SinterHab moon base would consist of bubble-like compartments coated in a protective layer of melted lunar dust

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The race to build a manned research station on the moon has been slowly picking up steam in recent years, with several developed nations actively studying a variety of construction methods. In just the past few months, the European Space Agency revealed a design involving 3D-printed structures and the Russian Federal Space Agency announced plans for a moon base by 2037. Now international design agency, Architecture Et Cetera (A-ETC), has thrown its hat into the ring with a proposal for SinterHab, a moon base consisting of bubble-like compartments coated in a protective layer of melted lunar dust.

A design team of Tomas Rousek, Katarina Eriksson and Dr. Ondrej Doule collaborated with the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory on a possible lunar station located near the Shackleton crater of the moon's south pole.

SinterHab is based around NASA's own concept of a mobile 3D printer that uses lunar dust (known as regolith) for material, called the Microwave Sinterator Freeform Additive Construction System (MS-FACS). Because of the unique properties of regolith – particularly its small size and the presence of iron nanoparticles – specific frequencies of microwave radiation can effectively heat the material well past its melting point and reform it into a ceramic-like substance. Researchers at Washington State University even tested this method on some man-made regolith provided by NASA with promising results.

A proposal earlier this year by NASA described creating a solar-powered module that could process regolith in this manner and feed it to a robotic arm equipped with a microwave print head. Mounting all this equipment to an existing ATHLETE (All-Terrain Hex-Limbed Extra-Terrestrial Explorer) would enable lunar soil to be harvested and repurposed into any shape at any location. For SinterHab, the baked soil would form a shield over the base to protect it from radiation and micrometeorites, as well as provide material for nearby roads and landing pads.

The design shares some similarities with the ESA's moon base proposal, but differs in that it doesn't require the regolith to be combined with outside materials or shaped into a single dome.

Instead, several inflatable membranes made of layered Kevlar, Mylar and other materials would be inflated and amassed together much like a cluster of bubbles. This way the sides of each dome could press together to form flat walls, and a base could be constructed using as many chambers as needed. According to A-ETC, a core of five domes could house four to eight people, including space for laboratories.

In fact, the SinterHab designers claim there would be enough space inside the domes to cultivate gardens as part of a bio-regenerative life support system that would revitalize the air and water. Growing plants on the moon is an option that has been explored in the past, most recently during a successful experiment performed in China. The moon base's design calls for a low-maintenance agriculture system, with natural light supplied by a fiber optics system linked to several Fresnel collectors and plasma lamps. According to A-ETC, a series of gardens could also provide fresh food and improve the astronauts' morale.

According to the designers, NASA has been using SinterHab as an example when trying to raise funding for its 3D printing technology, and development on "SinterHab 2.0" has already begun. We may still be decades away from seeing a functional moon base, but at least we can already start to see what a future lunar colony might look like.

Source: A-ETC, NASA

About the Author
Jonathan Fincher Jonathan grew up in Norway, China, and Trinidad before graduating film school and becoming an online writer covering green technology, history and design, as well as contributing to video game news sites like Filefront and 1Up. He currently resides in Texas, where his passions include video games, comics, and boring people who don't want to talk about either of those things. All articles by Jonathan Fincher

it will be ready for Newt Gingrich to move in!

Bill Bennett

Nobody's even done this on Earth yet - planning one for the moon seems mega premature.


I wonder why the microwaves instead of concentrated sunlight?

It is also important to remember that the surface material is radioactive from neutron bombardment.


Cool; I'll take one. Indoor pool, of course. My youngest gets on the schoolbus 90 ft from my front door so I guess that should be the standard I'm looking for on that. Are zoning rules strict, or are we using anal neighborhood covenants that are gonna say my 10,000 hp hydrogen quadcycle MUST be garaged at all times or that I can only display the Christmas laser holoornaments that others think are appropriate?


re; christopher

3D printing has been done. Fusing lunar dust by this process has been done within the limits imposed by not being on the moon. Why would it not work on the moon?


Mass produce for Lunar use, awesome Need HL Lunar shuttles to take pods or heating elements to Moon for making shelters.,

Stephen Russell

Great concept - But all these habitats leave one MAJOR problem untouched: At present, it is not possible for humans to survive for extended periods of time in Lunar gravity.... There are currently NO studies available for the long-term effects of that type of low-gravity gradient on the human physiology - However, based upon the near-zero-G data from the ISS, the effects are anticipated to be too great for long-term exposure to that lunar gravity, therefore any lunar habitat will have to have built-in 1G living quarters, probably based on centrigugal systems. Another problem with that is that it is impossible to have SMALL 1G centrifuges without severe Coriolis effects on the human body: That is caused when the gravity gradient is lower for the head than the rest of the body.... As in standing up in a small rotating wheel. We just don't know enough about that yet!!! But that type of Project is EXACTLY what we need to find out and learn from it - Just don't expect it to be a permanent habitat... What we need is artificial gravity like they have on Star Trek... Hopefully, some of our children will come up with that soon!!!! We already found out that Warp-drives are a possibility in Physics, as well as quantum transport of "atoms".... We are standing on the shoulders of Giants, and so will they!!

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