REAL LIFE NEWS: 3D PRINTING WITH MOON DUST
Building a colony on the moon or on Mars is going to require building materials, but we can’t send bags of cement or iron ore to other planets because they are far too heavy. That means future colonists are going to have to use local materials to make what they need. To find out whether that’s possible, scientists have tried to 3D print items using simulated moon and Martian dust.
A team from Northwestern University used a process called 3D painting which they had previously pioneered. This involves mixing the main print material with a binding biopolymer and a series of solvents, which keeps the material in a semi-liquid state as its extruded by the 3D printer. Then once it’s been extruded, the solvents evaporate to leave the main material and the polymer to set hard.
In their tests, the main material consisted of lunar and Martian dust simulants, as approved by NASA. The resulting objects are more than 90% made up of the dust (by weight). They have a flexible rubber-like consistency which allows them to be cut, rolled and folded as desired, yet they are also tough. The tests produced tools and small building blocks.
The lead scientists, Dr Ramille Shah, explained: “For places like other planets and moons, where resources are limited, people would need to use what is available on that planet in order to live. Our 3D paints really open up the ability to print different functional or structural objects to make habitats beyond Earth.”
Meanwhile, the European Space Agency is looking at 3D printing as a way to produce entire moon bases using lunar dust.