Building on the Moon: China’s 3D Printing Mission

China plans on 3D printing buildings on the moon

China’s plans to use additive manufacturing to construct buildings on the moon are becoming a reality. The countries aim to begin testing this technology during its upcoming Chang’e 8 mission, set to take place in 2028, According to reports, the project will include an experiment that aims to prove 3D-printing’s feasibility using lunar soil. This ambitious plan is a major step in developing space exploration, and utilizing technology to support the human habitation of space.

Scientists confirmed at a Wuhan meeting last week that they were considering 3D-printing blocks from lunar surface materials. The Chang’e 8 mission will oversee the project, which involves deploying a 3D printer on the moon’s surface, using lunar regolith as its building material. The regolith (moon dust) is found in abundance on the surface of the moon and could be used to build a future settlement.

Lunar soil particle micrographs brought back by the Chang’e-5 probe, displayed at an exhibition themed on lunar soil research achievements in Hefei, east China’s Anhui Province on April 19, 2023.

According to the report, Ding Lieyun, a Huazhong University of Science and Technology scientist, demonstrated a six-legged, insect-like robot prototype termed a “super mason” that could assemble these printed bricks similarly to Lego parts. Ding spoke to China Science Daily during the conference. “Eventually, building habitation beyond the earth is essential not only for all humanity’s quest for space exploration but also for China’s strategic needs as a space power.”

The nation is developing its next lunar mission batch with Chang’e 6, 7, and 8. Chang’e 6 will launch to the moon in two years to collect and assemble samples, and Chang’e 7 will be deployed a year after in search of reusable recourses and water ice in shadowed craters, among other things. Then, In 2028, Chang’e 8 will lay some of the foundations for the more extensive International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) project, which may look something like the visualized illustration below:

What China’s space base could look like in the year 2030 (Photo credit: Getty Images)

3D Printing: The Future of Manufacturing

The 3D printing technology for the project is not yet known, but Chinese researchers have developed a technique using a laser that melts lunar soil into blocks. These blocks can be assembled using robotic arms. Winsun, a Chinese firm, has also developed a method that could be used. Winsun, a Chinese company, has successfully 3D-printed buildings on Earth with recycled construction wastes and a large scale printer. This technology, according to the company, could be used on the moon and allow for rapid construction of lunar habitats.

The 3D printing method could have a number of advantages for the construction of the moon, regardless of how it is used. As an example, lunar regolith can be used to reduce the amount material that has to be transported, which is costly and logistically complex. 3D printing would also allow for more design flexibility, since structures could be customized to suit the needs of any given mission.

3D-printing technology is nothing new in the space industry. NASA has been researching the use of 3D printers for space applications since several years. The agency has already successfully tested 3D printed rocket engine parts and is currently funding ICON’s $57 million project to construct on the moon, as well as exploring the use of 3D printing to create habitats on Mars.

China’s plan to use 3D printing technology to construct buildings on the moon represents a significant milestone in the development of space exploration and human habitation in space. If this technology is successful, it could be used to create permanent lunar habitats for long-term human presence.  As we explore space travel possibilities and the possibility of human habitation, 3D printing will likely become more important in achieving these ambitious goals.

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