Monday, March 21, 2011

Regolith Castles


Enrico Dini, my new hero! Inhabitat, a green design forum that highlights new developments in design and architecture shows Pisan engineer-slash-inventor creating a 3-D architectural printer that can create buildings and someday... a moon base?!

I've seen Moleculaire's three-dimensional Food Printer in action, but edible material is easier to layer than... stone. Architects have used 3-D printers to "model" designs in recent years, but now they can print a building? On site. Full size.

So, of course, our SyFy-trained noggins leap ahead to when Moon Dust Igloos will be all the trendy rage.

Enrico Dini D-Shape 3D Architectural Printer
By suspending rigging over a building area, the huge D-Shape system uses rows of spigots to spray (waterless) binding glue atop a layer of sand, compacting the mix into rock. The process is repeated, building upward into whatever design was initially programmed into the printer.

3D allows previously impractical forms to be created, and accuracy is within 25 dpi. Also, since it requires no complex processes such as heating calcium carbonates (limestone) to create cement mixes, CO2 emissions are reduced.

As part of the European Space Agency's Aurora Programme, Dini is working with various contractors to modify D-Shape so that it will work with lunar regolith.

Enrico Dini, Chairman of Monolite UK Ltd.

The Italian show "Real Lives" introduces Dini and his grande macchina! It really starts rocking around the 00:50 second mark, when the camera moves all around the giant printer in action. At 1:15, you'll see the CAD/CAM software "visualize" animated projections, and get a true feel for the scale and textures.

Nice sculpture. Cathedral, anyone? Dini says his dream is to use the machine to complete la Sagrada Família, the infamous Barcelona church that has been under construction since 1882.

How many of these would he need to... actually rebuild Rome in a day?? ;)

Dini claims the D-Shape printer is four times faster than conventional building, costs less, yields almost no waste, is better for the environment and makes creating unusually-shaped structures much easier. Even things like columns and long cavities for wiring/piping are easily programmed and executed.

D-Shape Designs
However, I wouldn't run around echoing Inhabitat's "Voilà! Instant Regolith Resort!" sentiment just yet. The word "instant" is wishful thinking. Like anything else sent into space, development will include colossal amounts of preliminary work concerning weight, safety, travel costs and the reality of how the machine will operate in the moon's low gravity. Maybe they can test it on Earth with this stuff.

Ad astra per aspera!