To facilitate the goals of a sustained lunar presence, there will be a need for the efficient utilization of indigenous resources. The ability to make composite articles would be hugely advantageous for the fabrication of structures having high tensile and flexural strength. Articles with such properties are required for applications such as beams for cranes. The lunar environment lacks the hydrocarbons necessary to formulate organic polymeric matrices. However, sulfur is the eleventh most abundant among the elements in average lunar mare rocks. In 2016, a process called inverse vulcanization was developed that results in chemically stable and processable sulfur-based polymers. The process is straightforward and yields a dynamic covalently crosslinked thermoset. Though, it requires a small amount of an organic molecule having multiple points of unsaturation, of which there is not an abundance on the Moon. Urobilin, formed from the natural break down of red blood cells and found in healthy urine and feces, may fit the requirements for the necessary unsaturated organic molecule. Extraction from astronaut waste could be implemented in the Universal Waste Management System (UWMS) for collection. Given the processing characteristics of sulfur polymers it may be possible to utilize basalt fiber and sulfur polymers to produce polymer matrix composites using automated composite processing techniques such as pultrusion—a technique that allows structural composite materials to be made affordably by implementing automated processing. Utilizing novel polymer systems and reinforcements derived from lunar resources combined with proven automatable composite processing techniques should result in materials having enhanced tensile and flexural strength relative to wholly mineral based materials.
• The first product will be a sulfur-based polymer matrix capable of being processed into a composite material reinforced with basalt fibers.
• The first, and likely only, customer is expected to be NASA.
• The end users for this product are expected to be the astronauts that will be building the first structural habitats on the lunar surface.
• The proposed product conveys key benefits of reduced upmass compared to those in previously published literature by creating plastic material using indigenous lunar mare rocks.
• This niche technology addresses a need unique to space exploration and no plastics have been produced in an extraterrestrial environment to date, so estimating additional markets is speculative
• Potential customers may include SpaceX or U.S. Space Force
• Provides potential route to processable plastics on the Moon: adhesives, elastomers, moldable plastics, films, battery materials