NASA Tests 3D Moon Dust Printer on the ISS in preparation for Mars mission
[August 15, 2021: Dylan Kelly]
NASA‘s latest Northrop Grumman Sygnus resupply mission carried a 3D regolith printer to the International Space Station (ISS), according to the agency.
The Redwire Regolith Print (RRP) project, which essentially converts moon dust particles into solid materials, will work in conjunction with an existing ISS printer system, ManD, to test 3D printing regolith. Upon review, the results “could help determine the feasibility of regolith as a raw material and 3D printing as a technique for construction on future space missions,” according to ISS Research’s official Twitter account.
“The Redwire Regolith Print mission is an important step for proving these advanced manufacturing processes and ultimately accelerating NASA’s exploration timeline to establish a permanent human presence on the Moon,” said Michael Snyder, Chief Technology Officer of Redwire, in a statement.
As real samples are very precious and rare, the printer will use a human-made “moon stimulant”, a compound similar enough in make-up to lunar regolith to warrant testing. Redwire, the company behind the printer, says that the device can be used to create small fixtures and fittings, but added that it could potentially stretch to printing larger parts like landing pads, roads, or even habitats on the lunar surface.
If the tests succeed, RRP could allow astronauts to print a portion of soil-based habitats on-demand, which could reduce the amount of construction equipment NASA would need to bring to the Moon and Mars on future missions. The space agency has said it plans to look further into the potential for 3D printing habitats on Mars.
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