The European Space Agency (ESA) is getting in on the 3D-printing fun with extraterrestrial materials. They used simulated lunar material and the sun’s heat to print bricks that are as strong as gypsum. Their project demonstrates how lunar explorers could one day use a similar method to construct Moon colonies.
Future travelers to both the Moon and Mars could use locally-sourced materials to build habitats. Recently University of California, San Diego engineers funded by NASA were able to create super-strong bricks with simulated Mars dirt, and now ESA scientists have been able to use dust with similar composition and grain size as the material on the moon to 3D print bricks.
Materials engineer Advenit Makaya said they cooked successive layers of moondust 0.1 millimeters thick in a solar furnace at temperatures of 1,000 degrees Celsius – or 1,832 degrees Fahrenheit. The team can finish a 7.9 by 3.9 by 1.1 inch brick in about five hours. The solar furnace is located at the DLR German Aerospace Center, a place you may be familiar with because they recently built the world’s largest artificial sun.
The bricks will now go through extensive mechanical testing. They’re not perfect yet; for example, some have warped at their edges because the center cools slower than the edges. Advenit said they’re looking into ways to manage the warping, “but for now this project is a proof of concept, showing that such a lunar construction method is indeed feasible.”
The European Union’s Horizon 2020 program will back a follow-up project, RegoLight, which aims to develop 3D printing technology to shape lunar regolith, or the “loose layer of dust, soil, and broken rocks on the Moon surface.” Advenit said the recent ESA project occurred in normal atmospheric conditions, but RegoLight will attempt to 3D print with moondust in the high temperature extremes and vacuum conditions you’d find on the Moon.
Via the European Space Agency