The scientists from Germany have developed a compact laser system designed for lunar regolith 3D printing.
It is not cheap to travel in space. The same International Space Station is a project involving 14 countries and its lifespan seems to be running out: currently it is scheduled to be operated until 2024, though they consider to extend its lifespan to 2028-2030.
However, to reach other planets is not the main task to solve nowadays, currently they are increasingly thinking about establishing permanent habitats on those planets. Thus, reducing cost of shipping and servicing extraterrestrial colonies is getting more acute.
3D printing has become one of the most important methods that is widely used for other planet exploration because it allows for producing all the necessary things on the spot. You can significantly save on transportation of bulky equipment and machinery.
Most of researchers are unanimous in the choice of the structural material as well: regolith and basalt rocks, which are very similar to terrestrial on the Moon and Mars. Since the Moon is closer to the Earth, it perhaps will get the first such an extraterrestrial structure.
The Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) and the Institute of Space Systems (IRAS) of the Technical University of Braunschweig are aiming at melting lunar regolith with a laser in order to turn it into “the ink” for 3D printer and use as a building material.
Developed by LZH and IRAS, the laser system weighs less than three kilograms and has the volume of a large juice package that can melt down local raw materials on the Moon and convert them into versatile structures later. A project called MOONRISE can start on the Moon in 2021 with the first Moon mission of the Berlin-based New-Space company PTScientists .
We want to bring a laser system to the Moon, which is supposed to melt moon dust, the so-called regolith. We would thus take the first step to take Additive Manufacturing, that is 3D printing, to the moon,
explains Niklas Gerdes from the LZH.
The project MOONRISE has been running for almost nine months. The previous tests findings are promising: the laboratory setup is adapted; suitable, common laser hardware identified and tested, the optics designed and tested. The material that the scientists produce and use for the tests is becoming more and more similar to the lunar regolith.
At present, they are working on adapting the laser to the load compartment of the lunar rover. After the adjustments, the entire system is tested for its space suitability: because on the way to the Moon, the laser system must withstand shocks and temperature extremes.
The ambitious and future-oriented research project is funded by the Volkswagen Foundation within the scope of “Open – for the Unusual”. With this program, the foundation supports extraordinary and daring projects for which no other donor can be found.
RWTH scientists from the University of Aachen are also working on a project to produce basalt fiber from lunar rocks, which, they believe, can be used to make everything that Moon settlers living in the permanent habitats need.