SinterHab is a concept of a 3D printed module of a Lunar South Pole base that shows the potential of 3D microwave printing technology of NASA. It would be constructed from lunar dust by microwave sintering and contour crafting by NASA ATHLETE robotics system near Shackleton crater. Robots equipped with this technology would basically bake the lunar dust without any necessary glue that would need to be imported from Earth.
Project SinterHab was originally started at International Space University by space architects Tomas Rousek, Katarina Eriksson and Dr. Ondrej Doule in collaboration with scientists from NASA JPL. London-based space architect Tomas Rousek, director of A-ETC.net, then carried out an internship with the NASA Habitation team at NASA JPL in Los Angeles where he worked with authors of this 3D printing robotics system. The SinterHab project was first introduced to the scientific community at the International Astronautical Congress 2010 and in the leading aerospace journal Acta Astronautica in 2012.
Microwave sintering creates a solid building material purely by microwave heating of the dust. Due to the nano-sized iron particles in the lunar soil produced by space weathering, it is possible to heat the dust up to 1200 – 1500 0C and melt it even in a domestic microwave oven. When the lunar dust is heated and the temperature is maintained below the melting point, particles bond together and the building blocks for the lunar habitat can be created. In the future, structures of entire cities on the surface of the Moon could be built just by using solar energy. We can significantly decrease mass, costs and environmental impact if we don’t need to send this binding agent from Earth. Furthermore, the hardening of the surrounding surface of the base would help mitigate the hazards of contamination from lunar dust, which is highly abrasive and harmful to both astronauts and equipment.
An innovative internal inflatable membrane Inflatable space habitat system of SinterHab offers up to four times bigger volume of the module than classic rigid modules at the same weight imported from Earth. Nature provides inspiration for inflatable structures in the form of foam bubbles. The intention of building several compartments with sintered walls led to a design based on the geometry of bubbles, where the forces of neighbouring bubbles are in equilibrium and enable the building of flat walls It would be possible to make the modules large enough to accommodate even a green garden that recycles air and water for the lunar outpost. The radiation shielding is provided by regolith structure, polymer layers of inflatable membrane and water tanks in critical places.