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3-D Printer Makes Parts From Lunar Simulant

3-D printing using lunar simulant. Credit: WSU

Turns out that you can leave home Earth without it!

If you’re on the moon and in need of that needed wrench or replacement part, why not just 3-D print the item?

Amit Bandyopadhyay, professor in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering at Washington State University and his colleagues are demonstrating how to print parts using materials from the moon.

To test the idea, NASA provided 10 pounds of raw lunar regolith “simulant” – that is, fake lunar material that can be used for research purposes.

The lunar material – consisting of silicon, aluminum, calcium, iron and magnesium oxides – can be melted and used to build a few simple shapes. Using additive manufacturing, the material could also be tailored to fabricate stronger building material.

Layer by layer

Three-dimensional fabrication technology, also known as additive manufacturing, allows researchers to produce complex 3-D objects directly from computer-aided design (CAD) models, printing the material layer by layer.

In the case of using the lunar simulant, the material is heated using a laser to high temperatures and prints out like melting candle wax to a desired shape.

Because of the tremendous expense of space travel, researchers strive to limit what space ships have to carry. Establishment of a lunar or Mars outpost would require using the materials that are on hand for construction or repairs. That’s where the 3-D fabrication technology might come in.

In the future, the researchers hope to show that the lunar material could be used to do remote repairs.

“It is an exciting science fiction story, but maybe we’ll hear about it in the next few years,” says WSU’s Bandyopadhyay. “As long as you can have additive manufacturing set up, you may be able to scoop up and print whatever you want. It’s not that far-fetched.”

The research was supported by a $750,000 W.M. Keck Foundation grant.

For a video describing the research, go to:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SFQFCeAas34&feature=player_embedded

By Leonard David

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