Physical Sciences Inc., in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Lios Design, proposes to investigate and develop a system to enable molten lunar regolith printing of structures to support human activities on the surface of the moon. In support of the greater “Moon to Mars” campaign and the lunar stepping stone Artemis project, NASA needs the capability for adaptable and efficient robotic construction of robust lunar base structures on the surface of the moon. The proposed approach completely leverages in situ resource utilization (ISRU) for both power and construction materials. Various important structures, including landing pads, blast shields, roads and habitats will be constructed from direct solar sintering, melting, and 3D printing of lunar regolith. The concept takes advantage of recent technology developments in the delivery of concentrated solar power, as well as additive manufacturing (printing) with metal oxide (glassy) materials. The proposed Phase I project will address the specific challenges of merging these technologies into a viable construction tool on the surface of the moon. The outcomes of the effort will be detailed physical modeling of critical physical processes, (including experimental tests on regolith surrogate material), and the generation of a Phase II prototype design that can be built and tested on Earth for vetting of the manufacturing concept in ambient, and then lunar simulated, conditions. This project will advance the state of the art in both utilization of concentrated solar power, and “glass printing” using lunar raw materials. Technical success of the prototype, and follow-on lunar-specific robotic manufacturing platforms will provide an extremely versatile tool for structure fabrication in current and future planetary exploration campaigns.
The most important and near-term NASA mission and market for the technology proposed here is the Artemis project, which aims in its current timeline to put men and women back on the moon by 2024. Continued activity in the polar region of the moon in this effort encompasses the construction of a lunar base, comprising a variety of structures, ideally with as much ISRU as possible. Lessons learned in robotic fabrication in this environment will help guide the designs of next step goals of putting humans on Mars for extended periods.
Extension markets include: commercial terrestrial (remote e.g.) and space operations needing solar thermal power; additive manufacturing from local materials such as sand (military, humanitarian); versatile large-scale (architectural) construction from affordable and insulative materials; and small-scale construction with affordable and various glassy materials (research fabrications, art).