PULLMAN, Wash. — A little Martian dust seems to go a long way. A small amount of simulated crushed Martian rock mixed with a titanium alloy has created a stronger, more capable material in a 3D printing process that could one day be used on Mars to make tools or rocket parts.
The pieces were made by Washington State University researchers with as little as 5% up to 100% Martian regolith, a black powdery substance meant to mimic the rocky, inorganic material found on Earth’s surface. the red planet.
While parts with 5% Martian regolith were strong, parts with 100% regolith were found to be brittle and cracked easily. Still, even materials with a high Martian content would be useful for making coatings to protect equipment from rust or radiation damage, said Amit Bandyopadhyay, corresponding author of the study published in the International Journal of Applied. Ceramic Technology.
“In space, 3D printing is something that has to happen if we’re going to think about a manned mission, because we really can’t transport everything from here,” said Bandyopadhyay, a professor at the School of Mechanical and WSU Materials Engineering. “And if we forgot something, we can’t come back for it.”
Getting materials into space can be extremely expensive. For example, the authors noted that it costs NASA’s space shuttle about $54,000 to put a single kilogram of payload (about 2.2 pounds) into Earth orbit. Anything that can be made in space or on the planet would save weight and money – not to mention that if something breaks, astronauts would need a way to fix it on the spot. .
Bandyopadhyay first demonstrated the feasibility of the idea in 2011 when his team used 3D printing to make parts from lunar regolith, simulated crushed moon rock, for NASA. Since then, space agencies have embraced the technology, and the International Space Station has its own 3D printers to manufacture materials needed on-site and for experiments.
For this study, Bandyopadhyay and graduate students Ali Afrouzian and Kellen Traxel used a powder-based 3D printer to mix simulated Martian rock dust with titanium alloy, a metal often used in space exploration for its strength and its heat resistance properties. As part of the process, a high-powered laser heated the materials to over 2,000 degrees Celsius (3,632 F). Then, the molten mixture of Martian-ceramic regolith and metallic material flowed onto a moving platform that allowed the researchers to create different sizes and shapes. After the material cooled, the researchers tested it for strength and durability.
The ceramic material made from 100% Martian rock dust cracked as it cooled, but as Bandyopadhyay pointed out, it could still make good coatings for radiation shields because the cracks don’t matter in this context. But just a bit of Martian dust, the mix with 5% regolith, not only didn’t crack or bubble, but also had better properties than the titanium alloy alone, which meant it could be used for manufacture lighter parts that could still support heavy loads.
“It gives you a better material that’s stronger and harder, so it can perform significantly better in certain applications,” he said.
This study is just the beginning, Bandyopadhyay said, and future research could produce better composites using different metals or 3D printing techniques.
“It establishes that it’s possible, and maybe we should think in that direction because it’s not just about making plastic parts that are weak, but metal-ceramic composite parts that are strong and can be used for any kind of structural parts,” he said.