Astronauts could use Mars soil to 3D print on the Red Planet
Martian soil could serve as 3D printing material, researchers have shown, meaning it could be used to make objects on the Red Planet.
In a series of tests, Washington State University School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering professor Amit Bandyopadhyay and his team used simulated crashed Martian regolith to demonstrate its capabilities as a 3D printing material.
The results could be crucial for future crewed missions aimed at March.
“In space, 3D printing is something that has to happen if we’re going to think about a manned mission, because we really can’t transport everything from here,” Bandyopadhyay said in a statement (opens in a new tab). “And if we forgot something, we can’t come back for it.”
Related: Off-Earth manufacturing could help astronauts explore the Moon and Mars
In addition to solving logistical problems, manufacturing Mars would reduce costs. On the Space Shuttle, for example, each kilogram (2.2 pounds) of payload carried into low Earth orbit costs NASA $54,000.
The average distance between Earth and Mars is 140 million miles (225 million km), and the cost would be exponentially higher to supply the Red Planet than to supply the International Space Station in low Earth orbit.
In most 3D printing tests, researchers mixed different amounts of simulated Martian regolith with a titanium alloy. They also attempted to make a 3D printing material from pure simulated regolith.
Related: Mars explorers could harvest oxygen from the atmosphere using plasma
They heated the dry ingredients to 3,632 degrees Fahrenheit (2,000 degrees Celsius), then poured the molten material into a 3D printer to transform the material into a variety of shapes and sizes. Researchers tested each object for strength and durability.
The team found that a mixture containing 5% regolith was harder and stronger than the titanium alloy alone. The pure regolith cracked as it cooled after printing, but the team suggested it could be used for a radiation shield coating, which would not be affected by the cracks.
“It establishes that [3D printing with regolith] is possible, and maybe we should think in that direction, because it’s not just about making plastic parts, which are weak, but metal-ceramic composite parts, which are strong and can be used for any kind of structural parts,” Bandyopadhyay said in the statement. .
The team’s research was published July 24 in the International Journal of Applied Ceramic Technology (opens in a new tab).