With 3D printers proving day by day that these nifty little devices will most likely be the next technological revolution; it’s no wonder that they are seeing application in just about every field possible. Having the ability to recreate just about anything, 3D printers, though seemingly simple, can produce very complex things and according to a new study will definitely have application on the moon, as future missions to the satellite or even colonists will be able to use the devices and the best part is, they will have an infinite supply of raw material as the study has found that moon rocks could be used to fashion tools and spare parts.
The research was initially proposed by NASA which in 2010 commissioned the Washington State University to see the viability of moon rocks as raw material for 3D printers. The Washington researchers were provided simulated samples of lunar rock or regolith, which contains high quantities of silicon, aluminium, calcium, iron and magnesium oxides.
The researchers found that the regolith could very well be used in 3D printers to create small tools and spares parts, with the 3D printer using molten regolith that had been melted by a laser. Publishing the study in the journal, Rapid Prototyping Journal, the researchers used a process known as “additive manufacturing” which builds prototypes layer by layer, using a ‘controlled nozzle’ to produce different shapes.
Speaking about the research, lead author, Prof Amit Bandyopadhyay said, "It sounds like science fiction, but now it's really possible. As long as you can have additive manufacturing set up, you may be able to scoop up and print whatever you want. It's not that far-fetched.”
While the regolith itself may have limited use, with some experts saying that it may not have application for complex prototyping, the viability of regolith does help in the regard that it can save a great deal on transportation, as ferrying equipment and raw material to the money would be very costly however with the 3D printer, only design files would have to be sent, with the regolith directly sourced from the moon. Author David Woods comments, "The important thing to consider is that the Earth has a very deep gravity well so anything you can make in situ on the Moon will save an awful lot of energy and therefore money. So it's better to be able to live off the land. That's why scientists are so interested in water at poles, and the fact Moon dust works well with microwaves and could theoretically be used to make a paved surface if you created roads. Such technologies are untested but they do open up the possibility of future colonisation of the Moon, even if only for scientific purposes."