The project for basalt fiber production from lunar rocks has been started by the Institut für Textiltechnik (ITA) and the Institute of Structural Mechanics and Lightweight Design (SLA) of RWTH Aachen University.
ITA researchers Alexander Lüking, Davide Pico, Thilo Becker and professor Thomas Gries consider basalt fiber to be one of the key materials able to create almost all that is necessary for the extraterrestrial mission to the Moon.
The launch of this project coincides with the 50 year anniversary of the first Moon landing. This fact is symbolic by itself, but not unexpected.
July 20, 1969, as part of NASA project lunar module of Apollo 11 landed on the surface of the nearest Earth satellite. The astronauts carried out planned activities and collected the samples of lunar soils.
Although the Apollo mission was cut short in 1972, this, of course, did not put an end to the mineralogical research carried out by many countries using unmanned vehicles. Currently, we are aware of the Moon resources: igneous rocks composed of basalt and anorthosites, which are close to terrestrial in chemical composition.
NASA is now planning to get back to the Moon in 2024 with a permanent mission. But, a temporary stay and organization of a permanent habitat are the concepts requiring completely different approaches. It will take too long time and too much money to deliver all essential for the extraterrestrial settlement (about 10 thousand euros per kilogram). So, what are we supposed to do? Deliver or not? Perhaps, it would be better to produce all that is necessary there, on the site.
Construction of an extraterrestrial habitat was first tested for Martian environment: basalt fiber 3D printing project won NASA challenge for Mars habitat.
The scientists from ITA believe that both buildings and most of necessary things for extraterrestrial missions are able to make from basalt fiber and its composites. Even garments and space suits.
In general, the project for basalt fiber production from lunar rocks is no different from that on the Earth: basalt rock that is available on the Moon in abundance is melted and then fibers are drawn out through platinum dies.
The specialists from ITA have already created a pilot machine able to produce 800 meters of fiber per minute. The team is going to test the feasibility of producing continuous basalt fiber beyond the Earth on the International Space Station.
Moreover, Aachen University developed an experimental cube called «iBOSS» to send the equipment to the ISS. They are now launching a crowd-funding initiative to find partners.
The Moon and Mars attract interest as planets for the potential colonization. They both have basalt deposits, pushing the development of basalt technologies. The US-based project Made of Mars from the SETI institute is also currently developing technologies for the production of fiber from Martian basalt rocks.