Exploring 3D Printing with (Ersatz) Moon Dust

Setting up bases on the moon is an incredible leap for humanity, with 3D printing being a critical technology in its realization. The concept of shipping plastic or other filament is costly. An alternative solution suggested by NASA is to print using readily available resources on the moon, like moon dust. There’s a company, Virtual Foundry, that enables you to experiment with this concept. They provide Basalt Moon Dust Filamet, a filament with a composition similar to moon dust. Find more about their product in the link provided.

This concept may not be as cheap as you’d hope, but it’s certainly cheaper than traveling to the moon. Virtual Foundry specializes in creating PLA with different strands of metals and ceramics. They recommend printing with their filaments like PLA but require a larger hardened nozzle and suggest prewarming the filament before entering the hot end.

This filament is best printed at a 210 °C temperature and a 135% flow rate. The filament itself contains about 60% basalt; once it undergoes sintering at high temperatures, it transforms into pure basalt.

This is not the first time filaments have been created with blended materials. In fact, there have been cases where metal or ceramics have been mixed in filaments. Virtual Foundry has even created copper-infused filaments to create rocket nozzles.

This article seems to be just marketing, lacking any personal experience with the product. It only offers a store link and a video from the manufacturer.

How does this differ from other premium items? I’m not in the market for satellites, rockets, or telescopes, but I enjoy learning about new concepts and technology. Indeed, there’s a substantial reader base who appreciate these kinds of articles. So, keep producing them.

I’m curious about which is heavier, filament transported from Earth or the number of nozzles chewed through by lunar filament?

Should the idea of FDM through a lunar dust-printing nozzle proves promising enough to test and survives the initial trial stage given the distances involved, the hotend for the ‘official’ version will probably be made of an extremely hard and durable substance like diamond for wear resistance… The expense of fabricating a super-hard nozzle, as well as additional engineering to ensure its thermal cycle survival without falling out of the heat block, would be well worth the alternatives of shipping multiple replacements and a system for their installation.

Perhaps moon printing isn’t best achieved through this method. Wouldn’t the metal powder printer technology be more suitable, as it can directly utilise lunar dust and would likely pose fewer logistical challenges?

I wonder, what level of heat would be necessary to sinter lunar dust?

Temperatures ranging from 900 to 1300°C would be needed if the lunar dust is similar to basalt.

The surface of the moon is not uniform in its composition, therefore the needed temperatures may vary across it. As a result, too many unknowns exist due to lack of information. However, the prevalent approach would be to sinter the plastic binder laden with lunar dust, which in turn, forms a robust ‘lunar dust’ component. So, it becomes crucial to generate a large heated surface. Alternatively, the plastic could simply be filled to increase its volume.

Well, I just stumbled upon a wc sign on printables. Interestingly, it stated in Polish, “every man is a 3D printer”. When you combine this concept with that of moon dust, we might have stumbled upon a method to protect the top layers of our lunar habitats. Additionally, for the happiness of Matt Damon, you could construct an indoors potato growing facility.

Right, no need to grumble about any absence of atmosphere; I assure you, there’ll be no odor.

> every man is a 3D printer

Indeed, but keep in mind there is a distinction between just a simple extruder and a full-fledged 3D printer. As a fellow Pole, I speak from experience.

Since I am unsure about correctly posting links here, I’d recommend you to navigate to printables_com. Run a search for “jest”, and you’ll come across a user going by the moniker “Samael” who has posted a sign with text in Polish, set against a black and orange backdrop. This is the source of my initial comment, which I saw just before I got around to reading the HaD article. With the language barrier out of the way, the true significance of the sign should be clearer to you. Do widzenia.

$400 a roll. hard pass.

$400 for 0.5 kg, so $800 for a normal sized spool. Also the basalt is 2.9 g/cm^3 which is considerably higher than PLA and since basalt makes up 60 % of the filament then that makes the filament much denser (both if you consider the 60 % by mass or by volume) and hence for the same mass you get shorter filament.

You really aren’t getting much for your money. This isn’t made for hobbyists, the cost and need to sinter it puts it out of most hobbyists price range and capabilities. Instead this is likely for companies who are planning or are interested in printing on the moon.

so for suckers then

I expect the economy would be different on a world that is 100% moon and 0% petroleum or plant based plastic material

So this is hack-an-ad now?

Always has been.

If, not when moon bases are a thing. Acting like it is inevitable is pure hubris. Do not tempt hubris, I want it to happen too.

3D printing on the lunar surface presents a unique challenge due to the lack of gravity. While many are focused on material selection, there’s also a need to consider the impact of gravity on the printing process. Those familiar with 3D printing on Earth know all too well the difficulties of finding a balance where everything works perfectly to produce a quality print. Consequently, tackling this task without the trusty aid of gravity to direct the filament correctly exposes its integral role in the process. Changing the speed of the print head, the flow, or extrusion pressure in a low-gravity environment greatly affects the filament’s form as it exits the nozzle. Material adhesion does provide resistance, but even it has limitations when confronted with Newton’s laws.

In reality, gravity does not play a decisive role in Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM). Constructing the machine in an appropriate way is crucial – there are numerous printers capable of functioning upside down without facing issues, including those used on the International Space Station.

Certainly, with the lowest-priced hot ends and their usual slack tolerances, the process may run into trouble without gravity. They often struggle to work properly with a slightly flexible filament, and screws with huge backlash may not function optimally. However, with proper engineering, the main application for gravity would simply be to prevent the printer from shifting position.

While it is obvious that the moon has less gravity compared to Earth, to say it completely lacks gravity seems to be an overstatement.

So, admittedly, you can extract resources from moon dust. But just how does one facilitate the extraction of PLA on the moon?

Quite simply. It’s possible to produce it from the blubber of moon whales.

We are like whalers on the moon, supplied with harpoons, yet with the absence of whales, we resort to storytelling and whaling tunes.

This material seems ideal for setting up portals. However, would it be effective when used to 3D print an AR lower receiver? Although I’m aware that this article is promotional, I am genuinely interested in how a firearm 3D printed in this substance would perform as its strength can be gauged from how well it resists exploding.

One might assume that any lasting construction on the moon would solely involve creating concrete from lunar soil, particularly if water is detected there. The procedure might be as simple as inflating a dome, starting the mixing process inside it, and then pumping over the internal form. It’s hoped that one of the first experiments conducted on the lunar surface would verify this potential, and perhaps even meager quantities of water and vacuum cement could prove viable. Once rudimentary shelter is established, attention can turn to power solutions, or even a solar furnace for sintering or plasma spraying materials.

It could be argued that microwaving lunar soil is a more feasible approach than employing a 3D printer with a mixture of PLA and lunar soil.


The moon offers an ample amount of sunlight for energy and an abundance of lunar soil. Importing plastic might prove costly, considering the associated transportation expenses to the moon.

As far as that goes, it ought to be possible to sinter regolith using just a (big) parabolic mirror.

Tunnels in hard rock.

Why do you think old Musky bought the boring company?

Not to make super expensive, buried private traffic lanes.

Raises the question: Just how light could you make a lunar or martian TBM? I don’t see how a traditional TBM could work. Rather a few robot miners of some sort. Perhaps breaking rock with freezing water down drilled holes.

1. Drill holes with solar power, fill with local water.

2. When sun sets, switch robots to just don’t freeze heating.

3. Muck out tunnel in morning.

4. ?

5. Profit!

Might work easier once below the temperature swing, assuming the deep rock is cold enough. On the moon’s poles, it’s as cold as Hillary’s…

If I were Elon, I’d put dad on the job. There’s no substitute for experience. But the truth is, I don’t know if he’s a pit miner or a tunnel miner.

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