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3D printer creates objects from NASA moon material


November 28, 2012

Buzz Aldrin went without the option of 3D printing spare parts out of lunar materials (Photo: NASA)

Buzz Aldrin went without the option of 3D printing spare parts out of lunar materials (Photo: NASA)

Researchers at Washington State University have successfully 3D printed basic shapes with simulated moon rock, offering the first glimpse of a future in which off world explorers or colonists may be able to fabricate parts and components composed of lunar or Martian surface matter.

The research came about as a result of an approach in 2010 from NASA to Washington State University's Amit Bandyopadhyay, posing the question of whether 3D fabrication using moon rock was possible.

NASA duly provided Bandyopadhyay and fellow researcher Susmita Bose with 10 pounds (4.5 kg) of simulated raw lunar regolith (or surface material), which NASA uses for research purposes. The material is made of oxides of silicon, aluminum, calcium, iron and magnesium.

Bose and Bandyopadhyay were a logical choice for an approach from NASA given their work into the 3D printing of orthopedic implants using simulated bone.

WSU reports that, though researchers were dubious about the possibility of melting the simulated material, they found it behaved similar to silica, and have been able to build simple shapes. That's not exactly ideal, since silica, or silicon dioxide, has a high melting point of 2,230° C (4046° F). However, this does put us in mind of the sand-melting Solar-Sinter 3D printer.

"It doesn't look fantastic, but you can make something out of it," Bandyopadhyay said of the simulated moon rock. But it may be that the real potential lies in additive manufacturing, supplementing moon rock with additives from Earth.

Such a process may allow for the development of stronger building materials, while minimizing the weight and the expense of transporting raw materials from Earth.

"As long as you can have additive manufacturing set up, you may be able to scoop up and print whatever you want," Bandyopadhyay said. "It's not that far-fetched."

Source: Washington State University

About the Author
James Holloway James lives in East London where he punctuates endless tea drinking with freelance writing and meteorological angst. Unlocking Every Extend Extra Extreme’s “Master of Extreme” achievement was the fourth proudest moment of his life. All articles by James Holloway

I wonder if it would be possible to optimize the printer for speed over precision? This might give you the ability to output a rough brick in minutes, rather than a perfect one in hours, for instance.

Jon A.

What would make me really excited about this, though, would be if they could print a solar cell.

Jon A.

Would it also work with Martian materials? It would make building a more permanent base or extended living areas for the astronauts on missions there. Something to think about anyway.

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