Most 3D printers use some type of filament or resin to create small objects that are used in manufacturing projects, replacement parts, or when trying to figure out what a 3,000-year-old mummy sounded like. NASA reportedly plans to ditch these materials in favor of something else: lunar rocks.
Universe Today reported that as part of the Redwire Regolith Print (RRP) project, the agency sent a 3D printer to the International Space Station (ISS) to see if extraterrestrial materials can “build strong, durable structures on demand.” as NASA put it.
The space agency said RRP was specifically designed to show the use of regolith – dust, broken rock, and other materials found on the surface of extraterrestrial objects – with the Made In Space Manufacturing Device (ManD) 3D printer, which is already in use located on board the ISS.
“The main goal in performing the printing operations is to successfully demonstrate the ability of the manufacturing process in microgravity,” NASA said. “The second goal of the print shop is to produce material samples for scientific analysis.”
The feasibility of regolith-based 3D printing in microgravity could directly affect future missions to the Moon and Mars. Even if there are issues with zero gravity 3D printing, the agency said using regolith as a 3D printing material could have benefits here on earth.
“Such technology could eventually be used to build habitats, landing sites, and other structures for future exploration missions using on-site materials,” NASA said, “rather than having to bring all the raw materials for such a construction.”
That covers the space aspect. Regarding life on earth, the agency said the ability to use on-site materials could aid “the development of infrastructure to improve the quality of life in remote and undeveloped areas and emergency construction on site while responding to natural disasters”.
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Universe Today said NASA will be advancing the RRP project step by step. The first step is to find out if regolith is suitable for 3D printing. then the agency would put the resulting objects through many tests to see if they met the standards of the American Society for Testing and Materials.