The natural home for an experimental USC Viterbi School of Engineering technique for “printing out” full-scale buildings may be the moon.
Behrokh Khoshnevis, a USC Viterbi professor with appointments in three departments, has received funding from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to develop his Contour Crafting system for lunar construction. His collaborators included Madhu Thangavelu, an adjunct lecturer in astronautics at USC Viterbi, and USC School of Architecture faculty members Anders Carlson and Neil Leach.
Khoshnevis and collaborators will be designing such items as lunar roads, landing pads and aprons, shade walls, dust barriers, thermal and micrometeorite protection shields and dust-free platforms.
Recognized as an imaginative breakthrough by the National Inventors Hall of Fame and others, Contour Crafting works according to the same principles as an ink-jet printer. Instead of jets squirting ink onto paper, in Contour Crafting sophisticated nozzle arrays deposit specially formulated concrete-like materials to build large, three-dimensional structures one layer at a time.The current prototype is 13 feet high, 17 feet wide and 20 feet long, and incorporates 20 patents in its molding nozzle and other components.
The technology will have to prove itself in a dress rehearsal on Earth at NASA’s Desert Research and Technology Research Studies facility.
The team hopes to integrate the Contour Crafting units with other equipment for use on the moon under development by NASA, including the Lunar Electric rover, the Chariot rover and an extremely lightweight crane assembly (optimized for low lunar gravity).
“The technology has the potential to improve materials handling and schedules, will reduce the need for hard physical labor, eliminate issues relating to human safety and produce intricate, aesthetically refined designs and structures,” Khoshnevis said. “Space architecture in general and lunar structures in particular also will provide a new aesthetic vocabulary for architects to employ in the design and creation of buildings that employ high technology and building information modeling that is vital for optimizing use of materials and energy that is critical to building economics.”
Khoshnevis has been working on Contour Crafting for more than a decade, with support from private sources and government agencies. The technology has been recognized as an imaginative breakthrough by several organizations, including the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
Khoshnevis hopes that Contour Crafting can revolutionize construction on Earth, reducing waste, saving time, eliminating construction-related deaths and accelerating the replacement of housing and other buildings after natural disasters.
On the moon, the proposal is intended to increase astronaut safety, improve build-up performance and ameliorate lunar dust interference.
Khoshnevis’ proposal was funded by the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program. It was one of 30 submissions accepted from a pool of 800. The grant is for one year, with possible extensions depending on demonstrated results.
Khoshnevis works with the Daniel J. Epstein Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, the Sonny Astani Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering.