New 3D printed bricks withstand pressures 250 million times higher than the Earth's
NASA aims to establish a permanent presence on the moon with its Artemis program and its asked scientists to devise clever new methods for building lunar bases capable of withstanding the harsh conditions of our nearest cosmic neighbor.
Now, thanks to experiments run by scientists at the University of Central Florida (UCF), future lunar astronauts could use bricks made of lunar regolith and saltwater to build their homes, a press statement reveals.
3D-printed moon bricks
Ranajay Ghosh, associate professor of UCF’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and a team discovered that 3D-printed bricks made using lunar regolith — dust and loose rocks from the lunar surface — are capable of withstanding the extreme conditions of the moon. They detailed their findings in a recent issue of the journal Ceramics International.
The researchers created the bricks using a combination of 3D printing and binder jet technology (BJT) — an additive manufacturing method in which a liquid binding agent is deposited on a bed of powder particles. "BJT is uniquely suitable for ceramic-like materials that are difficult to melt with a laser,” Ghosh explained. "Therefore, it has great potential for regolith-based extraterrestrial manufacturing in a sustainable way to produce parts, components, and construction structures."
In their BJT experiment, the researchers used saltwater as the binding agent, and the powder was a substitute for lunar regolith.
Regolith and human blood could build future space habitats
The BJT process first created weak cylindrical bricks, called green parts, that were then baked at temperatures of up to 1,200 degrees Celsius to produce bricks that could withstand pressures of up to 250 million times the Earth's atmosphere.
According to Ghosh, the team's work paves the way for future crewed missions using BJT in space. The findings also show that bricks can be built using abundant, readily available materials in space. This is an important finding, given the fact that transporting vast amounts of building materials to the moon would be prohibitively expensive.
“This research contributes to the ongoing debate in the space exploration community on finding the balance between in-situ extraterrestrial resource utilization versus material transported from Earth,” Ghosh said. “The further we develop techniques that utilize the abundance of regolith, the more capability we will have in establishing and expanding base camps on the moon, Mars, and other planets in the future.”
Several scientists have made similar proposals in recent months as the scientific prepares humans to go back to the moon and beyond — NASA's Artemis moon missions are seen as a stepping stone for eventual human exploration of Mars.
Last year, a University of Manchester scientist proposed using human blood and urine as a binding agent for future housing on Mars. They stated this would significantly reduce the cost and increase the speed of construction for future off-world colonies and that astronauts, though the health implications still need to be investigated.
Natasha Caudill is a social media influencer and accessibility advocate debugging the monochrome world for you. She speaks to Interesting Engineering about her life experiences, social media interactions, advocacy, and being a part of NASA's unveiling of the first images from the James Webb Space Telescope.