New 3D-Printing Method That Uses Extraterrestrial Dust, Helpful For Future Colonization Of Mars Or Moon

First Posted: Apr 15, 2017 06:30 AM EDT

A team of researchers has fashioned a new 3D-printing technique that can be used to make everything, from small equipment to large buildings. Now, here comes the really interesting part -- the raw material needed for creating all of these things will be extraterrestrial dust from Mars or the Moon! The cool technology will allow humans to go ahead with space colonization plans as colonies can be built on alien worlds with limited surrounding resources.

According to The Indian Express report, a research team from the U.S.’ Northwestern University has demonstrated the capability to 3D-print structures with lunar and Martian dust simulants. The researchers used an extension of a 3D-painting process that had been earlier used by them to print graphene and carbon nanotubes, hyperelastic bone, metals and alloys.

“For places like other moons and planets, where resources are limited, people would need to use what is available on that planet in order to survive,” said Ramille Shah, from Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering. “Our 3D paints really open up the ability to print different structural or functional objects to make habitats beyond Earth.” The research has been published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Incidentally, the lunar and Martian dust simulants, which are NASA approved, have sizes, particle shapes and compositions similar to the dust found on the surface of the Moon and Mars. The researchers created the Martian and lunar 3D paints with the respective simulant dust, a series of simple solvents and biopolymer. After which, a simple extrusion process was used to 3D paint them. The structures made with the technique are more than 90 percent dust in weight.

Interestingly, in spite of being created with rigid micro-rocks, the 3D-painted material is tough yet elastic and flexible -- same as rubber. This is also the first example of soft and rubber-like material that has resulted from Martian and lunar simulant materials.

Furthermore, the materials created with the technology, using extraterrestrial dust simulants, can be folded, rolled, cut or shaped after being 3D-painted, if one wants to do so. The researchers feel that in 3D-painting technology’s broader context, the development of the technique shows the potential of using a 3D printer on another world to make structures from various kinds of materials.

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