moonrock 3D printers could use Moon rocks to make tools and parts

3D printing could become a vital technology for future colonists of the Moon, with the ability to use rocks on Earth's satellite to make tools and parts.

3D printing could become a vital technology for future colonists of the Moon, with the ability to use rocks on Earth's satellite to make tools and parts.

 
Researchers in the Washington State University have tested simulated Moon rocks melted down in a 3D printer to make a variety of small objects, potentially paving the way for more inexpensive trips into space, since a large number of things can be created there with 3D printers rather than being shipped as cargo.
 
The discovery follows a request made by NASA to the university in 2010, asking if the technique was possible. The space agency supplied the simulated rocks, called lunar regolith simulant, which are made up of silicon, aluminium, calcium, iron and magnesium oxides.
 
The rocks are melted with a laser and fed into a 3D printer, which takes a blueprint from a digital file and creates it layer by layer through a process called additive manufacturing, which the team at the university believe means an operator can “print whatever you want.”
 
moonrock 3D printers could use Moon rocks to make tools and parts
 
While successful in these preliminary test stages, the technique has not yet tried real lunar rocks, nor has it been trialled with building a complex design like a spaceship. Professor Colin Pillinger, who orchestrated the unsuccessful Beagle 2 mission to Mars, said the technology would need to be very precise to be useful for the space industry, and questioned its usefulness for more sophisticated parts like electrical components.
 
Regardless, the breakthrough could save millions of dollars on future missions to the Moon, as even  basic supplies that can easily be printed can take up a huge amount of cargo space, requiring larger spacecraft, which are more prone to fail, or multiple cargo trips, which drives up costs significantly. Coupled with developments in the corporate space industry this could lead to an increased pace of space exploration and colonisation.
 
Professor Amit Bandyopadhyay, lead author of the study, said: “It sounds like science fiction, but now it's really possible.”
 
Source: BBC