Melting pesky lunar dust with a laser enables 3D printing of tools on the moon

moon dust laser 3d printing moonrise grafik 1 final klein 2000x1200
An artist’s concept of MOONRISE technology in action on the moon. Left, the lunar module ALINA; right, the rover with the MOONRISE technology — with the laser switched on, melting moon dust. LZH

Dust is a major problem for lunar expeditions. Not only could moon dust prove harmful to astronaut’s health, it also gums up devices and causes a wide variety of technological problems. But now scientists from Germany have come up with an idea to make use of the dust: Melting it with a laser and using it to 3D-print tools and equipment.

This is, incredibly enough, not a Bond villain plot but a real suggestion for how to manufacture materials in the lunar environment. Because the transportation of equipment to the moon is so expensive, the ability to print whatever is needed on demand would be hugely beneficial.

The idea is to use a system called MOONRISE which weight just three kilograms (6.6 pounds) and is only the size of a large juice packet. The device can melt lunar materials using a laser and shape them into new structures. For now, the primary purpose of the printing would be to manufacture simple objects like bricks for building structures. In the future, the technology could be scaled up to allow the manufacture of larger and more complex objects.

The scientists have been working on the technology in a lab with material that is as similar to lunar soil as possible. But to see whether it will work in practice, the device needs to be tested in the real lunar environment.

The aim is to get the technology ready for the 2021 launch of the German PTScientists lunar mission. This is an ambitious timeline for a new technology. “The time is very short to make the process safe, to set up and test the appropriate laser while keeping the weight budget,” Professor Ludger Overmeyer from the Lazer Zentrum Hannover said in a statement. “But only those who try the impossible have the chance to achieve it.”

The scientists believe that the potential benefits of the technology make attempting to meet the challenge worthwhile. “Fundamentally new insights can often only be gained if scientists and their supporters are willing to take risks,” Dr. Wilhelm Krull, Secretary General of the Volkswagen Foundation, the non-profit organization funding the project, said in the same statement. “Even if the outcome of the experiments is still unclear, the foundation wants to resolutely set the path for daring research ideas like this one.”

Movies & TV

Chernobyl: 10 burning questions we still have after watching the HBO miniseries

If you're like us, after watching the HBO miniseries about the catastrophic nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl, you still have many burning questions about what really happened. Here are some answers to those the series doesn't cover.
Emerging Tech

Your smartphone could be the key to predicting natural disasters

A challenge for atmospheric scientists is gathering enough data to understand the complex, planet-wide weather system. Now a scientist has come up with a clever idea to gather more data using smartphones and Internet of Things devices.
Emerging Tech

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover will pave the way for manned missions to Mars

Survival on Mars is a massive challenge for humanity. To cope with the highly variable temperatures, lack of oxygen and water, and high levels of radiation, the Mars 2020 rover will carry instruments to pave the way for human exploration.
Product Review

Can Walmart extinguish Amazon’s Fire with the cheap Onn Android tablet?

There aren’t many Android tablets under $100, so the Walmart Onn is an attractive prospect. With near stock Android and the Play Store on board it has the potential to be an Amazon Fire beater, but what’s it like to use?
Emerging Tech

Impossible Foods struggles to keep up with Impossible Burger demand

Red Robin and White Castle have reported Impossible Burger shortages, as it appears that Impossible Foods is struggling to keep up with demand. The company will be selling its meat-like patties in retail outlets within the year.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Plant-based shoes and a ukulele learning aid

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

Pass the salt please: Table salt found on Jupiter’s moon Europa

Astronomers have spotted something unexpectedly familiar on the surface of Jupiter's moon Europa -- sodium chloride, better known as table salt. This suggests the under-ice oceans on Europa are salty and similar to our oceans on Earth.
Emerging Tech

Hubble captures explosive galaxy, the site of three recent supernovae

Hubble's latest image is of the spiral galaxy NGC 4051 which is notable for having played host to a large number of supernovae: the first seen in 1983 (SN 1983I), the second in 2003 (SN 2003ie), and the most recent in 2010 (SN 2010br).
Emerging Tech

The grainy texture of Saturn’s rings reveals clues to their origins

New analysis of data from Cassini shows that Saturn's rings are not smooth, but rather are grainy in texture. Scientists believe that tiny moons within the rings cause materials to cluster and form clumps and straw-like patterns.
Emerging Tech

The Very Large Telescope gets upgrade to aid its hunt for habitable exoplanets

The Very Large Telescope is growing even bigger. The latest addition to the telescope's suite of instruments is a tool called NEAR (Near Earths in the AlphaCen Region) which will hunt for exoplanets in the nearby Alpha Centauri star…
Emerging Tech

Tormented robot pulls a gun on its creators in latest Boston Dynamics spoof

Boston Dynamics' remarkable robots often receive a good few shoves in its videos, and the eager mistreatment recently inspired a team of L.A.-based video artists to give its rather amusing take on the matter.
Smart Home

A new survey by Adobe shows an evolving market for voice applications

A new consumer survey conducted by Adobe Analytics has uncovered a growing desire for more diversity in voice-controlled applications and devices as well as growing engagement with voice ads.
Emerging Tech

Live long and prosper? Experimental compound could slow down the aging process

Want to extend your natural lifespan beyond its current limits? A metabolite of biomolecules — found in pomegranates of all places — could help slow the aging process. Here's how.
Emerging Tech

Airbus’ new single-aisle jet has longest range in its class and a fancy cabin

Airbus has unveiled the design of its new A321XLR jet, an aircraft that it says will be capable of trips of around 5,400 miles, making it the world's longest range single-aisle airliner when it takes to the skies in 2023.