Researchers 3D Print Lunar Bricks Using Moondust And Solar Heat

Kathleen Villaluz

Materials science is taking a new direction as using raw, outer space elements to create construction masonries is leading the research front. Just recently, researchers have accidentally discovered how to make bricks using Martian soil. And now, another group of researchers has successfully printed lunar bricks using moondust and solar heat.      3D printed brick using moondust and solar heat

[Image Source: European Space Agency]

3D printing lunar bricks

Engineers from the European Space Agency (ESA) have managed to 3D print a triangular lunar brick using simulated moondust and concentrated sunlight. The research proves in principle that it is possible for lunar colonists to build habitats on the Earth's  moon in the future. A 3D printer table baked successive 0.1mm layers of moondust at a scorching heat of 1,000 degrees C. The iterative 3D printing process took around five hours to complete a 20 x 10 x 3 cm of brick. ESA engineers have used processed terrestrial volcanic material to simulate the composition and grain sizes of real lunar dust.

To simulate the sun's intense heat, the solar furnace located at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) facility in Cologne is utilized. The lunar soil grains are melted together using 147 curved mirrors to focus the sunlight into a high-temperature beam. However, when the sun's intensity in Europe is insufficient, a simulated sun called Synlight can take over and do the job. Researchers 3D Print Lunar Bricks Using Moondust And Solar Heat

Solar furnace [Image Source: European Space Agency]

The 3D printed bricks possess strength similar to that of gypsum which will be subjected to detailed mechanical testing. But the engineers are faced with one technical issue, some of the bricks inevitably warped around the edges as the perimeter cools faster than the center. Advenit Makaya, the materials engineer overseeing the project for ESA, addresses this problem.

"We’re looking how to manage this effect, perhaps by occasionally accelerating the printing speed so that less heat accumulates within the brick".

One potential application of the lunar brick is to construct an ambitious multi-dome base on the moon to protect occupants from space radiation and micrometeoroids.

lunar multi-dome base made of 3D printed bricks

[Image Source: European Space Agency]

Like many novel research findings, these 3D printed lunar bricks proves that it is possible to create construction materials using elements from the moon. "For now this project is a proof of concept, showing that such a lunar construction method is indeed feasible", says Advenit.

The RegoLight project

A new research field by ESA called the RegoLight project aims to further develop 3D printing technologies and methodologies to process lunar regoliths. The project will make use of the sun's infinite source of energy to bind the loose layer of dust, soil, and broken rocks on the Moon's surface so they can be used to fabricate building elements. It is envisaged to carry out long periods of lunar missions in the future and it will only be possible if settlements or habitats are built. Advenit adds the important role of RegoLight in the future of validation of 3D printed lunar bricks.

"Our demonstration took place in standard atmospheric conditions, but RegoLight will probe the printing of bricks in representative lunar conditions: vacuum and high-temperature extremes".

The RegoLight project is backed by the EU's Horizon 2020 program.

Via European Space Agency 

SEE ALSO: Engineers Find A Surprisingly Simple Way to Make Bricks from Martian Soil

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