3D-printed Moon habitats could be built using glass fiber in lunar soil

A group of scientists in China found an abundance of glass fiber in lunar samples collected by the Chang'e 5 spacecraft.
Chris Young
The near side of the Moon.
The near side of the Moon.

Gregory H. Revera / Wikimedia 

A team of scientists in China-proposed building permanent structures on the Moon using lunar materials, including glass derived from lunar regolith, a report from state-owned media outlet China Daily reports.

In a new study published in the journal National Science Review, the scientists outlined how they identified natural glass fibers in lunar samples for the first time.

Lunar samples show an abundance of glass

The lunar samples carrying the glass fibers were retrieved by China's Chang'e 5 robotic Moon mission. Chang'e 5, China's first lunar sample-returning mission, landed on the Moon in 2020 and returned 1,731 grams of rocks and soil to Earth in the same year.

Analysis of the samples showed that the soil had the required properties for forming and molding glass material. This "confirms the possibility of manufacturing glass construction materials on the lunar surface," Shen Laiquan, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Physics, explained in the China Daily report.

The researchers stated that glass on the Moon was formed due to processes including volcanic activity, solar wind irradiation, and meteorite bombardment. What's more, they believe it can be extracted and molded using 3D printing technology.

This idea echoes We Weiren, a leading scientist at the China National Space Administration, who recently stated that scientists plan to use 3D printing technology to transform lunar regolith into various construction materials.

Mining the Moon

What's more, the glass could serve the double purpose of providing a great amount of insight into the Moon's past. As "ubiquitous products of lunar non-equilibrium processes, glass can remain stable for billions of years," the scientists wrote in their paper.

"This glass, with different origins, can therefore record crucial information with regard to its formation processes over geological time scales, and provide insights into many fundamental questions about the moon involving the duration of volcanism, the bombardment history of the solar system, the origins of lunar water and the moon's past magnetism," they continued.

Lunar regolith, or soil, has long been known to be a versatile material. Last year, a team of scientists also proposed that lunar soil could be used to generate oxygen and fuel. NASA, China, and Russia are also all looking to mine the lunar south pole for ice that can be converted into drinking water, oxygen, and rocket propellant.

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