Using resources found in space to build off-world structures can drastically reduce the need to transport building materials for programs like Artemis. As part of NASA’s Artemis program to establish a long-term presence on the moon, it aims to build an Artemis base camp that includes a modern lunar cabin, rover and caravan. This stable habitat could potentially be built with bricks of lunar regolith and saltwater, thanks to a recent discovery by a team of UCF researchers.
Associate Professor Ranajay Ghosh of UCF’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and his research team have discovered that 3D-printed lunar regolith bricks can withstand the extreme environments of space and are a good candidate for cosmic construction projects. Lunar regolith is the loose dust, rocks, and materials that cover the surface of the moon.
To create the bricks, Ghosh’s team at the Complex Structures and Mechanics of Solids (COSMOS) Laboratory used a combination of 3D printing and binder jet technology (BJT), an additive manufacturing method that forces a liquid binding agent into a layer of powder. In Ghosh’s experiments, the binding agent was seawater and the dust was regolith made by UCF’s Exolith Lab.
“The BJT is uniquely suited for ceramic-like materials that are difficult to melt with a laser,” says Ghosh. “Therefore, it has great potential for regolith-based extraterrestrial manufacturing in a sustainable way to produce parts, components and manufacturing structures.”
The BJT process resulted in weak cylindrical bricks called green parts, which were then fired at high temperatures to create a stronger structure. Bricks fired at lower temperatures crumbled, but those exposed to heat up to 1200 degrees Celsius were able to withstand pressure up to 250 million times the Earth’s atmosphere.
Ghosh says the project paves the way for the use of BJT in the fabrication of materials and structures in space. Their findings also show that off-world structures can be built using resources found in space, which could drastically reduce the need to transport building materials for missions like Artemis.
“This research contributes to the ongoing debate in the space exploration community about finding the balance between in-situ use of extraterrestrial resources versus Earth-borne material,” says Ghosh. “The further we develop techniques that use the abundance of regolith, the greater the ability we will have to establish and expand base camps on the moon, Mars and other planets in the future.”
The paper’s first author is Peter Warren, Ghosh’s graduate research assistant. Authors include mechanical engineering PhD candidate Nandhini Raju, mechanical engineering graduate student Hossein Ebrahimi ’21 PhD, mechanical engineering doctoral student Milos Krsmanovic, and aerospace engineering professors Seetha Raghavan and Jayanta Kapat.
Ghosh joined UCF in 2016 as an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and is a researcher at MAE’s Center for Advanced Turbine and Energy Research. He runs the Composite Structures and Solids Engineering Laboratory, better known as the COSMOS Laboratory, where he and his team fabricate and design new materials with the help of computer models and experiments. He received his PhD in mechanical and aerospace engineering from Cornell University in 2010 and is a recipient of the US National Science Foundation’s CAREER Award.
Materials provided by University of Central Florida. Originally written by Marisa Ramiccio. Note: Content can be edited for style and length.
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