Foster + Partners might be best known at the moment as the architectural firm behind the new Apple Campus in Cupertino.

But the firm’s latest project may really take it into outer space.

Foster + Partners is part of a consortium led by the European Space Agency that is developing plans for a permanent base on the moon. While the firm was retained a couple of years ago to begin work on potential designs, a symposium held last month in the Netherlands confirmed that the ESA is now moving ahead with the project.

According to Ubergizmo‘s Norédine Benazdia, the ESA gathered about 200 scientists together for the two-day event.

The idea is to build a permanent base near the southern pole of the moon, one that could eventually be used as a staging ground for future trips to Mars or for other long-range space exploration. The based would be operated by humans and robots.

The challenge is making this base both affordable and useful. The technology and design are aimed at letting astronauts construct a simple, yet safe and effective, structure.

As explained by Foster + Partners:

The practice has designed a lunar base to house four people, which can offer protection from meteorites, gamma radiation and high temperature fluctuations. The base is first unfolded from a tubular module that can be transported by space rocket. An inflatable dome then extends from one end of this cylinder to provide a support structure for construction. Layers of regolith (lunar soil) are then built up over the dome by a robot-operated 3D printer to create a protective shell.

The coalition behind this project includes the U.S., Japan, Russia, and India. The hope is to start sending exploratory missions in 2020 to determine the precise location of the structure, with an eye toward building a permanent structure by 2030

Here’s more detail:

(H/T: , Ubergizmo)

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