Manufacturing may be possible on Mars thanks to 3D printing

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What if living on Mars was possible thanks to 3D printing? This is the question posed by researchers at Washington State University (WSU). Recently, they managed to make a strong, high-performance material that could be used to 3D print tools or rocket parts on Mars. To do this, tests were conducted with Martian regolith, a black powdery substance used to mimic the rocky material found on the surface of the red planet. The material was mixed with titanium alloy, which is a material used in space exploration due to its heat resistance and strength.

Notably, the researchers printed several parts, each with a different percentage of Martian regolith. According to WSU professor Amit Bandyopadhyay, parts 3D printed with 5% black powder are stronger than those made with titanium alone. Objects made of 100% regolith, however, were found to crack more easily and lack strength. Nevertheless, the material is still useful for making coatings to protect equipment from rust or radiation damage.

The process of 3D printing the material

For this study, Amit Bandyopadhyay, along with graduate students Ali Afrouzian and Kellen Traxel, used a powder-based 3D printer to mix Martian rock dust with titanium. A high-powered laser heated the materials to over 2000°C (~3600°F). Then the molten mixture was poured onto a moving platform that allowed the researchers to fabricate parts of different sizes and shapes. Once the material cooled, tests were carried out to explore its strength and durability.

This innovation could make it possible to manufacture parts directly on Mars. Amit Bandyopadhyay says, “In space, 3D printing is something that has to happen if we’re going to think about a manned mission because we really can’t transport everything from here, and if we’ve forgotten something, we can’t get back the look for.” Indeed, moving materials through space would cost around $54,000 for a single kilogram of cargo. So anything that can be made directly in space or on Mars would save money as well as space shuttle weight. Amit Bandyopadhyay also says that the study is still in its early stages and the team hopes to get even better results by using different metals or 3D printing techniques. You can find the original press release HERE.

Mars 3D printing

The surface of Mars (photo credits: Nasa)

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*Cover photo credits: Vito Technology

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