NASA explores 3D printed lunar structure possibilities with launch of Redwire Regolith Print

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NASA starts a new series of scientific experiments for International space station (ISS), including a study by the specialist in mission-critical space systems Red cable This will determine the feasibility of 3D printing Regolith for on-demand construction of lunar structures.

That Redwire Regolith Print (RRP) study becomes ISS am Northrop Grummans The Cygnus spacecraft is scheduled to launch shortly before 6 p.m. EDT on August 10. In a media teleconference hosted by NASA ahead of the launch, Michael Snyder, Redwire’s chief technology officer, explained what the company wants to achieve with the project and what it could mean for future space exploration missions.

“The Redwire Regolith Print project is a tech demo of orbiting additive manufacturing using regolith that simulates raw material,” he said. “This represents a crucial step in the development of sustainable manufacturing capacities for lunar surfaces, which will ultimately establish a permanent human presence outside the earth by using available resources with adaptive systems. So this is really exciting for the future and hopefully something like this will be used on the moon at some point. “

The Redwire Regolith Print Study

National space agencies like NASA continue to strive for a permanent presence on the Moon and Mars, and harnessing the raw materials available locally to build structures and habitats could reduce the need for materials for future missions from Earth. As a result, this could significantly reduce the launch mass and cost of future missions and provide a more sustainable method for building casings and other structures on planetary bodies.

Once installed on the ISS, the RRP project will attempt to demonstrate the potential for 3D printing with regolith feedstock in microgravity using the Made In Space additive manufacturing device currently housed on board the station. Regolith is the loose rock and soil found on the surfaces of planetary bodies like the moon, and the study hopes to demonstrate the feasibility of 3D printing the material to construct on-demand habitats in future space exploration missions.

During the project, Redwire will use a feedstock of metal oxides and a binder that simulates regolith to 3D print multiple panels that will be molded to the exact specifications of the specimens required upon return to earth. Printing the samples as plates also allows Redwire to prepare as many samples as possible for the destructive testing phase. The regolith-simulating samples are printed using an extrusion-based 3D printing technique similar to melt deposition.

“A first set of three copies will be produced on the ISS for this demonstration,” explains Snyder. “This will be achieved by installing newly developed manufacturing components into Redwire’s existing additive manufacturing facility. As soon as these components or samples are returned, NASA will test the material properties of the prints by means of destructive tests. “

The Redwire Regolith Print Facility Suite, consisting of Redwire’s Additive Manufacturing Facility and the printheads, plates, and lunar regolith simulant raw materials that will launch for the International Space Station ISS. Photo via Redwire.

The hardware for the additive manufacturing device Made In Space was developed in collaboration with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and was designed to identify and test the methodology for regular manufacturing in the USA on a lunar surface in order to implement the Artemis program of the Support NASA. A key stage in NASA’s Artemis plan is to create lunar infrastructures for future surface scouting missions that will be critical to humanity’s sustained presence on the moon and beyond, Snyder said.

“The payload is essentially a manufacturing head that will be inserted into our existing additive manufacturing facility on the ISS,” he added. “We have produced over 200 tools for this since 2016, so that’s basically a new application head and a new application plate that we will be printing on. We are very happy about it, because it is the first time that a new production technology is being tested in microgravity. “

Redwire has been working with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center for some time after participating in the first round of the 3D Printed Habitat Centennial Challenge. The multi-phased challenge was aimed at advancing the construction technology required to create sustainable housing solutions for the earth and beyond, and was the origin of Redwire’s regolith-simulating material.

Once the 3-D printed regolith samples are returned to Earth, they will be analyzed and compared to samples made at a ground facility prior to launch. Comparing the samples will help Redwire validate that the printing process works at lower gravity levels than on Earth.

“The capability has already been proven on Earth, but requires further validation in the space environment,” said Snyder. “Operation both on the ground and in zero gravity will increase process competence for use on planetary bodies with gravitational fields, including the moon and Mars. The regolith print demonstration will be the very first test to produce regolith simulations of raw materials in space. “

The RRP trial will commence on Aug. 10 on Northrop Grumman’s 16th commercial replenishment mission from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Other experiments and deliveries to the ISS include manipulated tissue to investigate muscle wasting, slime mold, a flow-boiling and condensation experiment, and thermal protection systems.

A preflight view of the Redwire Regolith Print (RRP) Facility Suite launched aboard the NG-16, including the RRP printheads, platters, and lunar regolith simulant feedstock Photo via Redwire.
A preflight view of the Redwire Regolith Print (RRP) Facility Suite launched aboard the NG-16, including the RRP printheads, platters, and lunar regolith simulant feedstock Photo via Redwire.

3D printing for otherworldly structures

Additive manufacturing is attracting increasing interest from several national space agencies in order to establish a permanent presence on the moon.

For example, a Texas-based construction company SYMBOL has received an order from NASA to develop a prototype of a full-size off-world 3D printer. As part of the project, the team is working on the production of space structures that consist exclusively of lunar regolith.

The 3D printing with lunar regolith in weightlessness was also used by scientists from Technical University of Braunschweig and Laser Center Hanover, in a project called ‘MOONRISE’. The scientists developed a bespoke laser that, with further research and development, could form the basis for a ready-to-fly lunar rover that astronauts could use to create cost-effective long-term structures on the moon.

Elsewhere Russian space agency Roscosmos has confirmed its support for long-term missions through 3D printed structures made from material on site, and China’s National Space Agency has revealed its own plans to 3D print a base on the moon.

Howie Schulman, Redwire project manager, packages the Redwire Regolith Print printing plate prior to shipping it to NASA for launch.  Photo via Redwire.
Howie Schulman, Redwire project manager, packages the Redwire Regolith Print printing plate prior to shipping it to NASA for launch. Photo via Redwire.

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Selected image shows the Redwire Regolith Print Facility Suite, consisting of Redwire’s Additive Manufacturing Facility and the printheads, plates, and lunar regolith simulant feedstock that will launch to the International Space Station ISS. Photo via Redwire.



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