How about 3D printing with moon dust?
It’s been a while since the Apollo Program and Neil Armstrong’s words ”that’s one small step of a man, one giant leap for mankind” echoed on the radios. But, the aerospace industry doesn’t sleep. Next step: lunar and planetary colonization. We already landed on the Moon and on Mars and the idea of colonizing either one is well known.
Maybe one day we will land whole families on the Moon or Mars. We can get there despite the distance, gravity, and lack of breathable air. There are people who strongly believe humanity will move to another planet, but how to solve the issue of transporting everything from Earth? Here comes the innovative technology of 3D printing.
We don’t need to transport everything. All we need is a device that we can use on the lunar and planetary bodies and good material to produce new and spare parts in space, if anything breaks. Additive Manufacturing gives us exactly that. With 3D printing, we can use what’s available on the surface of the Moon- moon dust. How is it possible to 3D print with moon dust? Let’s find out.
Where do we get moon dust from?
Clearly, it’s on the moon, but we can’t just go and get it and we don’t have enough of the soil samples that have been collected test them for 3D printing. That was not a problem for the European Space Agency and an Austrian company Lithoz. They have decided to move forward with 3D printing because it benefited them with the ability to develop new materials. Also, with Additive Manufacturing technology they knew they can develop a 3D printer capable of using the new material.
Thanks to Additive Manufacturing they were able to challenge themselves and achieve unbelievable results. The fake moon dust they developed for 3D printing is simulated regolith (a type of tiny, far-out ceramic dust). It is firstly ground, then passed through a sieve and then mixed with a light-reacting, binding agent which holds the dust particles together.
Johannes Home, the CEO of Lithoz commented: “Thanks to our expertise in the additive manufacturing of ceramics, we were able to achieve these results very quickly. We believe there’s a huge potential in ceramic additive manufacturing for the moon”.
How do we 3D print with moon dust?
The researchers had a challenge laid ahead of themselves: how to turn moon dust into useful material? The answer was Additive Manufacturing. The 3D printing process itself is fairly similar to our DMLS or SLM technologies. A layer of the “moon dust” is spread on the bed of the 3D printer, then hardened by light exposure. To sinter the parts, they are baked in an oven.
Sounds easy, doesn’t it? That’s exactly what Additive Manufacturing means for production, innovation, and efficiency. 3D printing allows for the development of new materials, matching exactly the production needs. Now, it is the design that defines the manufacturing process, not the other way around. The technology used for production is no longer a limitation, in fact, it compliments the design.
European Space Agency also chose 3D printing for its precision. Additive Manufacturing can produce parts with highly complex geometries. ESA’s materials engineer Advenit Makaya explains: “These parts have the finest print resolution ever achieved with objects made of regolith simulant, demonstrating a high level of print precision and widening the range of uses such items could be put to. If one needs to print tools or machinery parts to replace broken parts on a lunar base, precision in the dimensions and shape of the printed items will be vital’’.
Is Additive Manufacturing the future of mankind’s space exploration?
Absolutely, yes. Now, astronauts won’t have to rely on spare parts brought from Earth. They can simply upload a file and 3D print it in space! Sounds out of this world? Well, 3D printing is truly bringing the next industrial revolution and sky is no longer the limit. With this cutting-edge technology, you can achieve anything, including 3D printing on the surface of the moon. Check out our picks of the best 3D printed projects on space!
At Sculpteo we might not 3D print with moon dust yet, but if you have more down to earth project, we’re here for you. If you have no experience with Additive Manufacturing, our Design Studio is available to help you develop your project. And if you already know what you’re doing, simply upload your designs to our online 3D printing service!
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