Apr 7, 2017 | By David

The 3D printing world is set to expand beyond the limits of our own planet, with the recent discovery of a new 3D printing technique that could be used for space exploration missions. It’s an extrusion process that uses specially designed inks, dubbed Lunar and Martian Regolith simulants. The inks are robust and elastic, and are synthesized using powder material similar to what can be found on the surface of the Moon or Mars.

As the idea of inhabiting another planet for a significant amount of time, or even permanently, becomes more and more plausible, research is being directed towards the issue of how engineering and construction work could be carried out in an extraterrestrial environment. 3D printing technology is considered a viable option for many off-world projects and activities, and FDM 3D printing has already been used on the International Space Station to produce objects on-demand. FDM is limited, however, in terms of the quality of materials that can be used. Methods like stereolithography 3D printing, on the other hand, would be difficult to use in environments away from Earth where certain resources are hard to come by. Researchers at Northwestern University sought to come up with a new 3D printing method tailored towards interplanetary exploration, that would allow quality materials to be used in limited resource situations.

The new materials used in the research were referred to as LRS and MRS (Lunar and Martian regolith stimulant) inks, made using 10% bio-derived polymer and 90% LRS or MRS powders. The powders are unrefined and are sourced from volcanic debris, as they are intended to simulate the properties of material that could be found in Lunar or Martian environments. Material on Mars tends to be rounded but rough, whereas lunar debris has a more jagged composition. Researchers hoped that they could prove that these inhomogeneous native materials could be used to make 3D printable inks, with specific properties. This would go some way to proving the viability of extending extraterrestrial 3D printing use.

The materials synthesized, LRS and MRS inks, were found to be readily 3D printable at linear deposition rates of 1–150 mm/s using 300 μm to 1.4 cm-diameter nozzles. They were used to can make complex shapes and objects that had defined properties. Single extrusion processes were extremely successful, and the resulting objects had the required mechanical and physical properties. Researchers observed that similar extrusion processes would be possible. The technique and materials they used are amenable to application with parallel nozzle extruders, larger diameter extruders, large build-area platforms, and mobile extruders. Although the research carried out was on a relatively small scale, it was found to be potentially scalable for major experimental or commercial operations, as the synthesis is a purely physical process (basic mixing of constituent elements) and doesn’t rely on chemical reactions of any kind.

The researchers were pleased with the success of the process, although there are still some issues unresolved. How 3D printing methods need to be adapted to work in low-gravity conditions or low-pressure atmospheres is still to be decided. However, the results of this research are definitely promising, and we look forward to seeing 3D printing technology leading the way in our relentless exploration of the galaxy.



Posted in 3D Printing Technology



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André Esteves wrote at 4/7/2017 10:28:35 PM:

Someone is overcomplicating... Remeber that 3d printer working with sunlight that melted sand to make glass pieces in the sahara? Why not do the same thing on the moon?No need for polymers...

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