UNSW will help Luyten accelerate the R&D of the “Platypus Galacticas” lunar 3D printer
Working as part of the “Meeka Project”, the organizations plan to accelerate the development and testing of a new gantry-mounted lunar regolith 3D printer. Playfully referred to as ‘Platypus Galacticas’, the system is designed to enable rapid construction of Moon-based infrastructure up to 9m x 12m and ultimately help Australia’s ambitions to establish a permanent presence on the lunar surface.
“We are absolutely delighted and extremely honored to partner with UNSW to make construction on the Moon possible,” said Ahmed Mahil, CEO of Luyten. “UNSW is renowned for its academic leadership and world-class research and we couldn’t be happier working together. Our partnership will consolidate Australia’s leading role in the rapidly developing global space economy.
“Our combined expertise and passion for innovative and exceptional construction results will help the human race accelerate the colonization of the Moon and other planets. “
Luyten’s platypus portfolio
Founded last year, Luyten is a start-up whose stated aim is to “bridge the technological gap” between the construction and industrial sectors. In an attempt to achieve this, the company has developed a line of modular “Platypus” concrete 3D printers, which it not only sells for $ 31 to $ 35,850 (USD), but markets as a service for building huge unique structures.
At present, Luyten’s portfolio includes both the original entry level Platypus and it’s more advanced Expeditionary system. Although the machines feature a similar gantry configuration, the former is designed to make 3D printing of complex prototypes viable for newcomers to architecture, while the latter is designed to provide users with greater mobility, allowing them to develop construction on site wherever they want.
The company has also started to develop another portability-focused edition of the Platypus called “X12”, which can be turned into a 12m x 16m 3D printer in twenty minutes. Little is known about the upcoming system, but its scalability would be enabled by a robotic transformer, and Luyten said it would be a “rugged, mobile and lightweight” unit.
Prior to its Meeka announcement, the company’s technologies had been firmly assigned to home-building applications here on dry land, with the Southern Hemisphere’s “first compliant 3D printed structure” to be built in December 2021. However, after identifying the cost, pace, and potential for customization of the Platypus here on Earth, Luyten has now also set his sights on alien sites.
“When we developed our revolutionary concrete 3D printers, we believed we were going to solve building and construction problems around the world,” Mahil explained. “But with ongoing discussions with people in the space industry, we are now looking to resolve construction and construction issues on the Moon. As a result, we commissioned the Meeka project.
Make movements on the moon
As part of a memorandum of understanding between the organizations, UNSW is now committed to helping develop a new addition to the Luyten range: the Platypus Galacticas. Built under the Project code name “Meeka” (which means Moon in Australian aboriginal), the machine is designed to be lightweight but larger than other platypuses at 3m x 4m, as well as scalable and compatible with lunar regolith.
When complete, the 3D printer is expected to reduce the amount of machinery and materials being pulled to the moon, in case Australian astronauts seek to build a permanent base there. Using such a CAD design-based approach to erecting colonies, UNSW associate professor Matthias Haeusler says it might even be possible to customize them uniquely for the moon.
“With computer design, one has a method of designing protective shells for habitats on the moon – with primary consideration of the requirements of human habitat in mind,” said Haeusler. “[For example]It allows scientific knowledge on how to protect humans from solar and cosmic radiation to power a script that generates a shelter with the required 80+ centimeters of solid material.
Already the project is expected to be at a stage where organizations are developing and testing different lunar materials and designs, but the technology is still far from end use. If deployed to the Moon, for example, the Platypus Galacticas would have to be preceded by regolith mining rovers, which in turn should transport the materials to the base where they could be sintered into something printable.
According to Mahil, however, the benefits of developing such scalable technologies will not only be felt on the Moon, but here on Earth, and the mission is also expected to produce teachings that inform housing construction in extreme climates.
“Many of the day-to-day conveniences Australians expect are in fact underpinned by space technology,” Mahil concluded. “It’s easy to forget that things like internet access, weather forecasts, GPS, online banking and emergency response to natural disasters all rely heavily on innovations floating around in the world. ‘space above the earth’s surface’.
Is regolith-based AF a take-off?
While 3D printing based on the lunar regolith remains at an early stage of development, several related research projects have now been supported by national space agencies, each seeking to study its potential for building a lunar base.
Space systems specialist Red cable, for example, was contracted by Nasa assess the feasibility of 3D printing regolith in on-demand lunar structures. Scheduled to take place on International space station, Redwire’s Regolith Print (RRP) study is designed to serve as a “tech demo” for using the raw material simulating moon dust to create orbital constructs.
Likewise, the Texan construction company ICON was also tasked by NASA to assess the potential of 3D printing to produce structures out of the world, albeit for Mars rather than the Moon. Using its Vulcan system, the company has already erected a 1,700 square foot Mars Dune Alpha habitat, which NASA intends to use as a means of assessing the long-term impact of prolonged exposure to Martian conditions.
In Russia, the country Roscosmos the agency embarked on a similar mission to 3D print regolith-based shelters, as did National Space Administration of China, who revealed his own plans to 3D print a moon base in January 2019.
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The featured image shows a rendering of what a future 3D printed lunar structure might look like by Luyten. Image via Luyten.