These small-scale structures have been 3D printed out of simulated Mars regolith, to investigate the feasibility of one day using local materials for building on the Red Planet and other planets.
A miniature igloo and a corner wall were manufactured as examples of designs that might be required by colonists, produced from ‘JSC-Mars-1A’ – volcanic soil that has undergone careful processing to match the known composition and characteristics of martian soil.
“The material was mixed with phosphoric acid serving as a binding ‘ink’, then extruded through a nozzle and deposited in successive layers,” explains Christoph Buchner of Fotec, the research arm of the University of Applied Sciences in Wiener Neustadt, Austria, which performed the test project for ESA.
“The hardened results demonstrate the technique has potential for hardware and structural manufacturing on a variety of planetary bodies – it does not depend on the destination.
“So this is a promising step towards ‘in-situ resource utilisation’ – the concept of using as much local materials as possible during a planetary mission, to cut down on the launch mass and cost.”
“These samples were produced as part of a larger ESA project into ‘Limited resources manufacturing technologies’, supported through our Technology Research Programme involving promising new technologies for space,” comments ESA materials engineer Advenit Makaya, overseeing the project.
“This is an encouraging result,” adds Tommaso Ghidini, Head of ESA’s Materials and Processes Section, “which complements a number of activities ESA is undertaking to provide the technologies for long-distance robotic and manned exploration.
“For such missions, in-situ manufacturing will be key, so we are developing a wide variety of capabilities.”