A human settlement on planet Mars as well as the moon requires infrastructure to sustain life and habitats. Now, as one innovation that could help make this vision come true, scientists have produced solid bricks made out of lunar soil and uses just the energy of the sun.
In a new experiment done by the European Space Agency (ESA), bricks were 3D-printed out of synthetic moondust and via concentrated sunlight, a technique that future colonists of Earth’s moon could use to build successful lunar settlements.
3D-Printed Bricks For Lunar Homes
A team led by materials engineer Advenit Makaya used commercially available fake lunar soil, based on volcanic material with composition akin to that of lunar dust, to produce 3D-printed bricks baked in a solar furnace.
“This was done on a 3D printer table, to bake successive 0.1 mm layers of moondust at 1,000 degrees Celsius,” said Makaya in a statement. “We can complete a 20 x 10 x 3 cm brick for building in around five hours.”
The solar furnace is owned and maintained by the DLR German Aerospace Center facility in Cologne, Germany. This equipment is quite bulky, consisting of 147 curved mirrors that focus sunlight into a high-temperature beam sintering the lunar dust into a solid mass.
Since Cologne weather is not always ideal and does not constantly provide the sunlight necessary for the printing, the team sometimes had to use a lineup of xenon lamps similar to those found in cinema projectors.
Moon Bricks: Prospects And Viability
The project is a proof of concept for now, testing the waters as a lunar construction technique.
But the researchers are confident that the bricks’ strength can be likened to the mineral gypsum, a major component of plaster, and they are bound to undergo mechanical testing. Some bricks also exhibited some warping at their edges.
“We’re looking how to manage this effect,” said Makaya, explaining that their edges cool faster and that this effect could be managed by occasionally speeding up the printing process for less heat to accumulate in the product.
Previous moon bricks produced by the ESA made use of salt for binding the lunar soil. This time, there is only a single ingredient.
Similar experiments were also funded by NASA, where a team of scientists invented a way to turn Mars’ soil into bricks without baking or added ingredients.
3D Printing Technologies
This 3D-printed moon brick project belongs to an ESA initiative called the ESA General Support Technology Program study and part of the European Union-funded RegoLight program aimed to develop technologies for future lunar colonies that harness resources already found there.
Locally sourced items, according to the statement, could prevent the need to bring everything from Earth. Travel may then be cheaper and more efficient with a smaller space vehicle.
3D printing technologies are launching plenty of wonders. Researchers at MIT, for instance, recently developed a new robot that can print an entire dome in 3D within 14 hours.
Inventors of the technology count on the 3D printing robot for faster, cheaper building construction.