A team of scientists has found that materials on Mars and the Moon can be used to 3D-print objects, such as tools for future manned missions.
The research was carried out by Northwestern University in Illinois, US, and published in Nature Scientific Reports. They used simulated dust of the lunar and Martian environment to create a “paint” that was then used to make objects like simple tools and even Lego blocks.
“For places like other planets and moons, where resources are limited, people would need to use what is available on that planet in order to live,” said co-author Ramille Shah from Northwestern in a statement.
The idea of 3D printing tools in space is not entirely new. ESA and NASA have both looked into the possibility before, and there’s also a 3D printer on the International Space Station (ISS) operated by Made In Space.
But 3D printing on other worlds, where Earth-like materials are not going to be readily available, poses a new challenge. “Our 3D paints really open up the ability to print different functional or structural objects to make habitats beyond Earth,” added Shah.
A previous ESA concept of 3D-printed habitats on the Moon. ESA/Foster + Partners
The paints were composed of 90 percent Martian or lunar dust, with the rest of the composition coming from simple solvents and a biopolymer. The resulting material was apparently similar to rubber, being flexible, elastic, and tough.
In their paper, the team noted that previous attempts at replicating this process had to rely on breaking the dust into a powder, or using a high-energy beam, to make a suitable material. This method, however, mixed it together into an ink.
The team said that in the future it may be possible to heat this ink and harden it, in order to create rigid structures like walls for a habitat on the surface of the Moon or Mars. If we ever want to colonize one of these worlds, being self-sustainable via techniques like 3D printing will be key.