Research shows potential of 3D printing on Mars

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Research shows potential of 3D printing on Mars: Researchers from Washington State University have shown how to fabricate high-performance material on Mars to produce rocket parts or in-situ tools. The approach, based on 3D printing a rock-metal composite, could help advance the manufacture in space and on the planet of structurally sound parts to facilitate interplanetary space exploration in the future.

As reported in the International Journal of Applied Ceramic Technology [Afrouzian et al. Int. J. Appl. Ceram. (2022) DOI: Mars]the team produced a black powdery substance to represent regolith, the loose deposits of dust, broken rocks and inorganic materials found on many planets and moons, to study how planetary manned missions could 3D print parts to reduce both weight and transportation costs, as well as the ability to fix things if they break.

The researchers, led by corresponding author Amit Bandyopadhyay, had previously demonstrated the feasibility of using 3D printing to make parts from lunar regolith for NASA, and the technology has since taken off, with the International Space Station having its own 3D printers to produce materials on site and for experiments.

Here, Bandyopadhyay and colleagues Ali Afrouzian and Kellen Traxel used a powder-based 3D printer to combine simulated rock dust with titanium alloy, a metal used in space exploration due to its strength and properties. of heat resistance. A high-powered laser then heated the materials to over 2,000 degrees Celsius, before the molten mixture of regolith-ceramic and metallic material flowed onto a moving platform to produce different sizes and shapes. As Amit Bandyopadhyay said materials today“This was the first work of its kind where 3D printing has been shown to create shapes via a melt casting pathway from regolith powders.”

The ceramic material made from 100% Martian rock dust was found to be brittle and cracked easily, although it was still strong enough to cover radiation shields. However, only a small amount of Martian dust – a mixture with 5% regolith – did not crack or bubble, and demonstrated better properties than simple titanium alloy, and could be used for lighter parts that can still support heavy loads.

Although direct 3D printing of regolith-metal composites has not yet been achieved, this study opens avenues of research to identify how to use more regolith to make strong and durable parts, and even better composites using different metals. , or metals in other forms such as wires, and what kind of properties can be obtained from these parts.

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