The European Space Agency is planning to build a lunar village that could house astronauts for months at a time, and construction on the facility could start as early as 2021, officials from the organization announced last month at a conference held in the Netherlands.
According to ScienceAlert and the Daily Mail, the ESA revealed their plans to a group of 200 scientists, engineers, and industry experts at their International Symposium on Moon 2020-2030 event in December, noting that the facility could serve as a pit stop on the way to Mars.
The moon colony would feature 3D-printed structures made out of regolith, or lunar soil, and could be able to house astronauts within the next 15 years, reports indicate. As part of the ESA’s plan, robots would be sent to the moon to begin constructing various buildings in the early part of the 2020s, and the first human inhabitants would follow a few years later.
While NASA is focusing on sending astronauts to an asteroid, and then on to Mars, the ESA’s new director general, Jan Woerner, has for months expressed his desire to send humans back to the moon.He also wants to establish a lunar colony to replace the International Space Station (ISS) as a center for scientific research, mining, and space tourism operations.
Lunar colony could reduce the cost of going to Mars
During the December conference, ESA officials and their colleagues started to lay the foundation for the proposed village, discussing new technologies essential to support a human colony on the moon. Those advancements include improved spacesuits, habitats, and greenhouses which would be used to grow vegetables and other plants, according to the Daily Mail.
Laurent Pambaguian from the ESA’s materials technology division noted that his team has been experimenting with additive manufacturing equipment that could print blocks out of the regolith for use in buildings Their 3D printers can produce between 6.5 feet and 11 feet of material every hour—meaning that it would take a week to produce enough blocks for one building.
According to ScienceAlert, NASA’s Kathy Laurini recently told reporters that the ESA’s plan to establish a lunar colony had “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.”
The website added that NexGen Space LLC, a consultant for the US space agency, said that a moon-based refueling station would cut the costs of sending American astronauts to Mars by as much as $10 billion per year. Such a facility would allow spaceships to launch with an estimated 68 percent less mass, as it would require to carry less heavy propellant into space since it would be able to fill up its tanks at the lunar surface facility.
Feature Image: ESA