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Astronauts may one day use moon-dust bricks to build a home far away from home

3D-printing moondust bricks with focused solar heat
Building a new home and looking for a design flourish that will make your neighbors sit up and pay attention? Constructing it out of 3D-printed synthetic moon-dust bricks, baked using concentrated sunlight, should do the trick!

The space-age masonry was created by the DLR German Aerospace Center at its solar furnace facility in Cologne. It involved taking simulated lunar material and cooking it in a custom furnace, which uses 147 curved mirrors to focus sunlight into a single high-temperature beam, capable of melting grains of soil together.

This is all done on a 3D printer table, where successive 0.1 mm layers of moon dust can be baked at a massive 1,800 degrees F. A single 20 x 10 x 3 cm brick takes around five hours to complete.

Due to the lack of actual lunar soil, the moon dust used in the demo was based on terrestrial volcanic material, processed in a way that allowed it to mimic the composition and grain sizes of actual moon dust.

“The starting material used in these trials is the JSC-2A lunar soil simulant,” Dr. Advenit Makaya, advanced manufacturing engineer at the European Space Agency, told Digital Trends. “Our contractor at the German Aerospace Center has performed some analysis in terms of chemical composition, distribution of grain sizes, density, and melting behavior, and we compared the results with data from Apollo mission samples, and with the JSC-1A simulant developed by NASA. The match with those two references was found to be very good.”

ESA–G. Porter
ESA–G. Porter

Somewhat amusingly, it seems the sun can be just as scarce in northern Europe as real moon dust — requiring the researchers to modify their solar kiln by adding an array of xenon lamps for cloudy days. These xenon lamps are the same lamps typically used in movie projectors.

While we joked up top about the bricks being used in future houses, in reality the inventors have something a bit further afield planned. Specifically, the bricks will help possible future construction in space, without having to lug heavy building materials beyond our atmosphere.

“These bricks prove the concept of printing 3-dimensional objects by using only lunar soil and concentrated sunlight,” Makaya continued. “Previous studies used either a binder — which needs to be brought from Earth — or an additional source of energy, such as laser or microwaves, to consolidate the soil powder. The approach developed here significantly reduces the needs to bring material or complex equipment from Earth. It offers a sustainable way of using local resources to build structures or hardware.”

Next up for the project is an E.U.-funded exercise that will involve increasing the complexity of objects for the lunar environment.

Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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