At 4:30 a.m. on November 24, 2020, China successfully launched the 8.2-ton lunar exploration project “Chang’e-5” probe with the Long March 5 rocket carrier at the Wenchang Space Launch Site in China.
About 2,200 seconds after the rocket flew, the probe was successfully sent into the predetermined orbit, starting China’s first return journey for sampling of extraterrestrial objects.
Re-entry module of Chang’e-5 lunar probe at the landing site in Siziwang Banner, North China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region on early Thursday morning, 17th December. Photo: Screenshot of CCTV
Unlike the previous Chang’e-4 and Chang’e-3, the Chang’e-5 probe will not only automatically land on the moon under unmanned conditions, but also “dig earth” on the moon and take off again to ship 2 kilograms of lunar soil back to earth.
After Chang’e-5’s lunar surface sampling returns, according to the plan, Chang’e-6 will sample and return from the lunar south pole, Chang’e-7 will explore the lunar south pole in a comprehensive way, and Chang’e-8 may verify key technologies such as “3D printing” houses on the moon. Countries will then work together to build a lunar scientific research base and do some preliminary explorations.
Building houses in space is not easy task, transporting materials to space is not only expensive, but also takes a long time. In this case, large-scale using 3D printing is a more realistic method, especially if the moon’s own materials can be used to build structures using automated systems.
A few years ago, the European Space Agency announced the blueprint of the first “human life support base” model built using 3D printing technology, and claimed that future robots can use “lunar soil” to build a human base.
This year, NASA announced a collaboration with a 3D printing company called ICON to study the method of printing structures on the surface of the moon, hoping that humans can live on the moon for a long time.
Similarly, the ultimate goal of China’s lunar landing plan is not only to send people to the moon, but also to establish a lunar station on the surface of the moon where humans can live for a long time. Field verification of whether the soil on the surface of the moon can be used to make “3D printed” building materials will be one of the important tasks of Chang’e-8 in the future.
But turning the lunar soil into building materials is not a simple problem. In addition to the soil quality, the problem of adhesives must be solved. In recent years, a large amount of water has been found on the moon, and this water is mainly distributed at the poles of the moon.
Thanks to 3D printing technology, building a base on the moon could theoretically be made much simpler by using a 3D printer to construct it from local materials.