Lunar habitat incorporates additively manufactured floor structure

September 6, 2021

The prototype floor was manufactured by MX3D from stainless steel 308SLi for use in the lunar habitat project (Courtesy MX3D)

This year’s Venice Biennale, an international art exhibition taking place at various locations across Venice, Italy, is showcasing a concept for a lunar habitat created by one of the world’s leading architectural firms, Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM). Developed with technical support from the European Space Agency (ESA), the design features an additively manufactured skeletal floor built by MX3D, Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

The prototype floor was manufactured from stainless steel 308SLi using MX3D’s robotic Wire Arc AM (WAAM) technology, a wire-based Directed Energy Deposition (DED) process. The structure, which supports a series of floor panels, incorporates six separate segments that are additively manufactured vertically before being welded together. The floor, with a mass of approximately 395 kg and a maximum assembled diameter of 4.5 m, took approximately 246 hours to manufacture.

The full-sized prototype floor was not able to be exhibited at SOM’s Biennale show, entitled ‘Life Beyond Earth,’ but the model (above left) shows the four-storey semi-inflated habitat the company has devised for their design study of a future lunar settlement (Courtesy Laurian Ghinitoiu/ESA)

“The innovative floor design is supported from columns in the habitat walls, cantilevering towards the perimeter and centre,” stated Daniel Inocente, SOM’s Senior Designer for the project. “We looked at the manufacturing constraints and used our analysis to interpolate a web pattern that followed the angular limits of the 3D printing machines. The cross section and thickness was also analysed, and differentiated to reduce the overall mass – with reduced thickness at the exterior/interior boundaries.”

The overall floor design is made out of six separate segments welded together (Courtesy SOM)

Gijs van der Velden, CEO of MX3D, commented, “This was a great opportunity to show the potential of our technology for the fabrication of lightweight metal structures together with ESA and SOM. It was a perfect project for MX3D to leverage its experience in printing topology optimised metal structures. Achieving an optimal use of material is a company goal at MX3D because – just as when designing space applications – every reduced kilo in a MX3D design is a direct win for a project’s feasibility.”

Thomas Rohr, Head of the Materials and Processes team at ESA added: “The capabilities of MX3D demonstrate inspiring concurrence of engineering and art, and are another great example to what extent Additive Manufacturing has already entered our society. For space applications, such technologies not only provide improvements in performance but can lead to unprecedented and enabling design solutions.”

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