Astronauts could live in a 3D-printed ‘village’ on the surface of the moon in as little as 15 years under plans put forward by the European Space Agency.
Officials from around the world recently discussed proposals for the first permanent base on the moon designed to replace the International Space Station.
They proposed using 3D printing technology to create a series of permanent structures using the lunar soil, known as regolith, which could used to house astronauts by 2030.
This lunar village could be used as a settlement for the first humans to live in a permanent base on the moon, while also supporting new types of scientific research.
The base could also serve as a staging point to launch future missions to other planets, such as Mars.
Esa has begun to take a lead role in the push to establish a base on the moon after Nasa said it does not intend to be the lead in future manned missions on the lunar surface.
Instead, the American space agency is focusing on sending humans to an asteroid and then on to the surface of Mars.
However, Jan Woerner, who took over as director general of Esa in July, has said he is keen to send humans back to the moon.
Speaking to Le Temps he said: ‘Abandoned by man for 43 years, it remains the only planet attainable by human missions with current technology, but remains poorly understood.
‘For scientists, if the Earth has changed massively since its formation due to vegetation and animals, the moon constitutes a silent archive of the solar system.’
He said he wanted to see a lunar base becoming the replacement to the International Space Station, which is currently orbiting the Earth.
He described a vision to establish a ‘village’ on the moon with multiple countries from around the world that could serve as a base for scientific, space tourism and even mining activities on the moon.
He said: ‘There is the regolith – an ideal material for making concrete. We could mould structures, such as an astronomical observatory, on the far side.’
Space exploration experts from around the world met in Noorwijk, the Netherlands, last month for the Esa-led international symposium entitled Moon 2020-2030: A New Era of Coordinated Human and Robotic Exploration.
They discussed new technologies that could help to support human life on the moon including new space suits, habitats and ways of producing food.
Some of these technologies, such as greenhouses being used to grow salad and other planets, are already being tested on the International Space Station.
Laurent Pambaguian, from Esa’s materials technology section, outlined technology his team have been testing to print construction blocks out of the lunar regolith.
He added that 3D printers can produce between 6.5ft and 11ft (2 metres and 3.5 metres) of material an hour, meaning an entire structure could be produced in a week.
By sending a robot capable of building structures from the lunar soil, it may be possible to have these in place in time for a manned mission to the moon.
Speaking in the past about the 3D printing technology, Mr Pambaguian said: ‘Terrestrial 3D printing technology has produced entire structures.
‘Our industrial team investigated if it could similarly be employed to build a lunar habitat.’
Artist’s impressions of such a lunar base released by Esa have been compared to the underground buildings inhabited by the children’s TV charactrers the Teletubbies.
Scientists also discussed a possible location for a base with astronomers favouring the far side of the moon as it would allow radio telescopes to peer into space without being effected by transmissions from Earth.
However, according to Space.com, Europe now appears to be leading the international efforts to put humans back on the moon.
Kathy Laurini, Nasa’s cao-chair for the exploration roadmap working group who attended the symposium, said: ‘The Esa space-exploration strategy sets the moon as a priority destination for humans on the way to Mars.
‘The recent talk of a ‘Moon Village’ certainly has generated a lot of positive energy in Europe.
‘The timing is right to get started on the capabilities which allow Europe to meet its exploration objectives and ensure it remains a strong partner as humans begin to explore the solar system.’