Study Shows How Astronauts Could 3D-Print Tools Using Martian Dust To Help Future Space Travel


According to engineers, they can 3D-print tools on the planet Mars. And if that’s not incredible enough, they can even use material from the planet itself. This experiment may even change the course of future space travel, they said. What this breakthrough possibly means is that on future trips, they’ll be able to print essentials for repairs for spare parts for rockets, for example.

This astonishing discovery could be the answer astronauts have been looking for, as researchers share that they can’t bring everything into space. If they happen to accidentally forget a tool while on mission, or possibly need a part that’s been broken, it’s not exactly like they can take a quick trip back to earth to get it.

In addition, study authors also explain that bringing materials into space can also be extremely expensive. In fact, it costs $54,000 to put a single kilogram (or 2.2 pounds) of material into the Earth’s orbit.

Because of this, Washington State University researchers believe that 3D-printing could be the answer to these extreme costs, making space travel both cheaper and easier.

The research team also figured out that small amounts of simulated crushed Martian rock that’s mixed with titanium alloy makes a very strong and high-performance material. This could be used to create tools and rocket parts from the planet Mars itself.

The researchers made tools using between 5% and 100% Martian regolith, which is a black powdery substance that’s normally used to imitate the rocky, inorganic material on the planet’s surface. This may also be collected using a rover or a robotic arm as well.

Then when it came to adding just 5% of Martian dust into the mix, they found that there were no bubbles or cracks, and it was far superior that just the usual titanium alloys. The researchers also believe that this combination could also be used to create lighter weight pieces that are still capable of carrying heavy loads.

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As for the study’s corresponding author, Professor Amit Bandyopadhyay, he said in an article from Washington State University, “It gives you a better, higher strength and hardness material, so that (it) can perform significantly better in some applications.”

Notably, the 100 percent concentration parts ended up being brittle and easily cracked. But, Professor Bandyopadhyay believes that 100% Martian rock materials would work well to coat and defend against rust or radiation damage.

During their experiment, Bandyopadhyay and others on his team, his graduate students Ali Afrouzian and Kellen Traxel, ‘they used the powder-based 3D printer to mix up the fake Martian rock with titanium alloy, a metal commonly used in space because it is light, strong, and heat-resistant.’

Next, they took a high-powered laser shot through the materials to reach up to 2,000 degrees Celsius. Afterwards, the melted mixture then flowed into a moving platform where the researchers managed to mold it into different sizes and shapes. Once it cooled down, they then tested it for strength and durability to see how it would work in space travel.

The team believes that even more is possible, and with their research being recently published in the International Journal of Applied Ceramic Technology, they also think that there are even better composites to be discovered using the different metals and printing techniques.

According to Bandyopadhyay, who also worked on other similar experiments for NASA back in 2011 using simulated crushed moon rock (lunar regolith) said, “This establishes that it is possible, and maybe we should think in this direction because it’s not just making plastic parts which are weak but metal-ceramic composite parts which are strong and can be used for any kind of structural parts.”

Because of those earlier experiments, space agencies have chosen to work with 3D printing more and more, while the International Space Station even has its own machines to manufacture the materials required for their experiments on site.



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