A research team at the Northwestern University in Chicago have discovered a new material that can be used in conjunction with 3D printing processes. The material replicates ‘space dust’ properties that are common to find on both the moon and the planet Mars. The new material can then be cut, rolled, folded and shaped once printed.
Creating The Space Dust Material
To produce this new material, the research team used NASA approved Lunar and Martian stimulants and mixed them with solvents and a biopolymer substance. This then creates a paint (referred to as a regolith ink) which when used in a 3D printing process, creates a structured material which is flexible and contains elastic properties. The new material is also durable and tough, similar to a rubber texture. This will be the first time that it’s been able to manufacture softer materials using Lunar and Martian stimulants. A similar ‘3D painting’ process was previously used to print hyperelastic bone structures, 3D graphene and carbon nanotubes.
What Is Its Use?
During rigorous testing and experimentation with the ‘3D painted’ material and ‘space dust’, members of the research team were able to produce a variety of different shapes and objects. These included basic tools used in regular culture, medical implements and irregular shaped building blocks. The team cite the discovery as being important for space and the solar system. Using dust in the atmosphere could help produce items and resources essential for being able to survive in environments beyond earth. Whilst research carries on, new possibilities such as heating the material are also being explored. This would mean that it could form into much tougher structures like ceramic.
Cited as ‘extraterrestrial manufacturing’, this new research project could lead the way for 3D printed material production in space and other environments in the solar system.
Scientific Reports – Robust and Elastic Lunar and Martian Structures from 3D-Printed Regolith Inks