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November 21, 2022

3D Printing on Mars

The costs associated with sending materials into space are very high, as we return to the moon and look at interplanetary exploration, researchers are exploring in situ 3D printing construction possibilities using simulated Martian soil.

Credit: U.S. National Science Foundation

3D Printing on Mars

As we return to the Moon and explore ways to visit and colonize other planets, we'll need more than just spacecraft. Infrastructure such as landing pads, housing, and shielding from radiation will be needed for mankind to survive.

The question arises, when we get there, can we build on Mars? We'll explore as we look into the U.S. National Science Foundation's "Discovery Files."

As travel to other worlds transitions from science fiction to science possible, using local materials from those planets will be vital. In 2018, it cost an estimated $54,000 for a single kilogram to be taken into orbit. Anything that could be made on a planet, or in space, would make the journey much more feasible.

NSF-supported researchers at Washington State University have developed processes and materials that may pave the way. Using a powder-based 3D printer, they mixed simulated Martian rock dust with a titanium alloy, a metal known for its strength and heat-resistant properties, in different quantities to different effects.

The ceramic material made from 100% simulated Martian rock dust, called regolith, cracked as it cooled, but the mixture with a lower percentage did not crack and was found to exhibit better properties than the titanium alloy alone.

The resulting mixture could potentially be used to make lightweight pieces that can bear heavy loads. Which will be vital as we move toward interplanetary exploration. The challenge of implementation remains as the speculative moves closer to reality.

To hear more science and engineering news, including the researchers making it, subscribe to "NSF's Discovery Files" podcast.

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