NASA's Artemis astronauts will likely 3D print batteries on the Moon

The space agency teamed up with university researchers to investigate the best methods for 3D printing space batteries.
Chris Young
An artist's impression of Artemis astronauts.
An artist's impression of Artemis astronauts.


A team of researchers at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) and Youngstown State University (YSU) are collaborating to develop 3D-printed batteries for future lunar astronauts.

They have teamed up with NASA in a $2.5 million project aimed at creating a new method that will allow astronauts to develop batteries from their lunar bases, a press statement reveals.

3D-printed batteries for lunar habitats

The new effort is a big step toward utilizing 3D printing technology on the moon for NASA's upcoming Artemis missions, which aim to establish a permanent colony on the lunar surface.

"UTEP is a seminal partner in this NASA-led project with our long and deep heritage in additive manufacturing," explained Eric MacDonald, professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering and associate dean in the UTEP College of Engineering. "UTEP’s reputation in 3D printing, material science, and our state-of-the-art facilities were important factors in convincing our NASA partners to pursue this potentially transformative research – for space exploration but for terrestrial applications of batteries as well."

The new project is investigating the use of two 3D printing methods. One of these is called "material extrusion", where the required form is fully printed in the process. The other "vat photopolymerization”, or VPP, where a vat of liquid photopolymer resin is used to gradually construct an object layer by layer.

Sodium-ion batteries will power lunar exploration

NASA has also partnered with Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin to deploy a method that can 3D print solar panels on the moon. Those panels may be used to power its 3D-printed batteries, which likely won't be standard lithium-ion batteries used on Earth.

Lithium isn't abundant on the Moon and Mars, so NASA is considering sodium-ion battery technology for its future lunar missions. To this end, the UTEP research team will be studying sodium-ion battery chemistry and possible printing solutions.

NASA, UTEP, and YSU will also investigate methods for extracting the required materials from the lunar regolith. Ultimately, 3D printing could be used to build batteries in the required shape for numerous applications. It could also be used for building habitats and modules that could withstand harsh space conditions.

The university teams have so far developed and tested VPP 3D printing to make composite resin feedstocks for different parts of the proposed power storage units. Next, UTEP and NASA's Glenn Research Center will test the 3D-printed battery components.

"This project with NASA is an opportunity to demonstrate UTEP’s expertise in both energy storage and 3D printing," said Alexis Maurel of the UTEP Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering. "Additive manufacturing appears as a unique approach to manufacture shape-conformable batteries to support human operations in space and on the surface of the moon or Mars, where cargo resupply is not as readily available."

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