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The Experiments Involving Lunar Soil Will be Conducted on the ISS

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Cygnus NG-16 was recently launched into space. It’s an iSS resupply spacecraft that brings materials and equipment needed for 3D printing with lunar regolith simulant to International Space Station.

While Elon Musk and his team are working on interplanetary transportation, NASA is thinking about improving the conditions of future Lunar and Martian colonies.

I am Groot from the Guardians of the Galaxy. Printed with the Phrozen 3D Printers.

The idea to build houses and service buildings using available materials is not new but it was needed to figure out what technologies to use. Setting up a construction plant on the Moon or Mars is excessive, since the scale doesn’t require it but using a construction 3D printer would solve the problem of making habitats.

The hardware side of things is also under research but this article will cover the materials. This is what the experiment will deal with: Cygnus NG-16 will bring the supplies of Lunar regolith simulant to the ISS, while the crew will try to turn the polymer-soil mix into something useful with the help of a 3D printer.

3D printers are used on the ISS since 2014, an American company Made in Space is the major supplier of them. The manufacturer’s very first system is already out of work and is replaced by a second-generation FDM machine, as well as two pieces of equipment that recycles waste into filaments. There’s also a resin 3D printer: a SLA system was installed in 2020 to experiment with 3D printing prototypes of turbine blisks using ceramic matrix composite materials. Another example would be a bioprinter made by two American companies nScrypt and Techshot. nScrypt made equipment,and Techshot is experimenting with 3D printing cardiac muscle tissues, researching the ability to bioprint functional internal organs ready for transplantation. A Russian-made bioprinter by 3D Bioprinting solution would be another additive manufacturing system on the ISS. It uses magnetic traps and played a role in several experiments involving forming living tissues using cellular materials

This article will cover a 3D printer by Made in Space, since it was the company that designed the device for this Lunar-Martian construction experiment. It will involve the second-gen FDM system that was mentioned above. It is officially called Additive Manufacturing Facility or AMF. This time the device will use Lunar regolith simulant instead of usual polymer filaments as materials. Supplies sent to the ISS include new extruders and plates. To help the astronauts avoid loading the materials, the printheads are made as modules that are already pre-loaded with filaments.

Redwire Space is a corporation that is officially in charge of the experiment. It was founded in 2020 and includes seven entities that are involved with the aerospace industry. Made in Space is among them, it was acquired in summer 2020.

Obviously, nobody is going to 3D print a full-sized house inside the ISS. At this point the experiment just involves producing small prints that will be sent back to Earth to go through various tests: including compressive and tensile strength ones, as well as finding out modulus of rupture. The main goal is to show the abilities of regolith 3D printing in the conditions of microgravity. If everything goes as planned, the device will produce three prints that will undergo testing under the ASTM D695-15, ASTM D638-14 and ASTM D790-17 standards. The scientists are interested in finding out how the material will act in low gravity, since the gravity on Mars is two times weaker than on Earth. And in the case of the Moon, it’s six times weaker. After the end of the experiment, new equipment will be kept on the ISS in case the additional testing will be required.

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