In October, a team of University of Washington students won an international prize for figuring out how to “print” large objects, using plastic garbage and a 3-D printer. Now comes word that researchers at Washington State University have figured out how to print simple objects with moon rocks.
Well, faux moon rocks, actually.
NASA officials approached WSU researchers two years ago, wanting to know if it was possible to take a substance that’s similar to pulverized moon rocks and use 3-D printing technology to “print” objects with the material, said Amit Bandyopadhyay, a professor in WSU’s School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering.
He and Susmita Bose, another professor in the mechanical and materials engineering school, are known for using 3-D printing to create bone-like materials for orthopedic implants.
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Bandyopadhyay said NASA wanted to test the concept because if astronauts in a moon-based spacecraft ever need to create an object from scratch, or repair a part on the spacecraft, a 3-D printer could be used to create an object from moon materials. The moon rock can also be melted and used as a kind of glue, he said.
The professors used a special 3-D printer that employs a laser beam as a heat source, and melted the rock into a ceramic-like material, making several simple objects.
The 3-D printer used for the project was purchased in part with a $750,000 grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation. NASA provided the researchers with 10 pounds of raw lunar regolith simulant, an imitation moon rock.
“It was a fun project for us,” Bandyopadhyay said.
Here’s a video of Bandyopadhyay describing the work: