NASA plans to continue lunar exploration and will need to build structures on the Moon to allow astronauts and explorers to work and stay there safely and sustainably. This is the next step in plans to further explore Mars as well. Traditional building materials like steel and concrete are too heavy for this use. AI SpaceFactory, winner of NASA’s 3D Printed Habitat Challenge with its 15-foot tall prototype printed of innovative biodegradable and recyclable material that withstood NASA’s pressure, smoke, and impact tests, will work on this project with NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (Kennedy).
AI SpaceFactory and Kennedy are developing a new material for 3D printing using simulated lunar regolith that represents the rock and dust on the Moon’s surface. Alex McCarthy, the principal investigator with AI SpaceFactory, further explained, “AI SpaceFactory’s strategy to print with simulated lunar regolith is to create a printable polymer/regolith composite, but the challenge is incorporating as much lunar regolith simulant as possible while maintaining reliable 3D printability and mechanical properties of the composite.”
The new material will be used to 3D print a test structure in a vacuum chamber simulating environmental conditions on the Moon. The vacuum of space changes the thermodynamics when compared to Earth, so the team working on the project will focus on this challenge to be ready for the conditions on the lunar surface.
“3D printing has already revolutionized how we design, build, and test products because it has greatly increased design flexibility and prototyping speed in our lab and across the world,” Nathan Gelino, a principal investigator with the Exploration Research and Technology programs at Kennedy Space Center, explained. “The collaboration between AI SpaceFactory and NASA is an opportunity to use those new capabilities to redefine how we construct buildings and other structures, not just on the surface of the Moon, but here on Earth, too.”
“From off-world to on-world, 3D printing with local resources is a far more sustainable alternative to building with concrete and steel,” said David Malott, the founder of CEO of AI SpaceFactory. “The technology AI SpaceFactory is developing with NASA for space could be a game-changer for how things are built on Earth.”