When the Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo spacecraft arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) this week, it carried a very special piece of equipment from Earth a 3D printer that uses moon dust to make a solid.
According to the technical website “digital trends”, NASA is testing the printing system from Redwire for use in upcoming lunar missions, Artemis, in the hope of making use of dusty lunar soil (technically known as Regolith) as raw materials for printing, and the idea is to use materials readily available on the moon to do what is needed instead. From having to move a lot of heavy equipment all the way from the ground.
Engineers have been thinking about how to 3D print using a lunar regolith for some time and have demonstrated the process on Earth, but sending a 3D printer to the International Space Station’s microgravity environment for testing is a big new step in getting the technology ready for use, and researchers want to see if the printing works. Without gravity and what is the strength of the printed matter.
The printer works using a lunar simulation – any man-made compound of a material chemically similar to the lunar regolith because real samples of the moon are very precious and rare, but the simulator must be close enough to the real lunar material that it can be used to test 3D printing devices, and the activator is used. As a feedstock, it is processed and fed into a printer to be printed in useful parts and shapes.
In addition to its use of small fixtures and fittings, Redwire says, this approach could eventually be used to print larger and more complex parts, such as landing pads, foundations, roads, and even lunar habitats for astronauts to live inside.
The effects go beyond Earth’s gravity as well, and NASA says it is developing the technology with the hope that it will eventually be used on other planets, such as manned flights to Mars, which could take advantage of dusty Martian soil to print complete structures in 3D.
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