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Center Innovation Fund: KSC CIF

3D Additive Construction with Regolith for Surface Systems

Completed Technology Project

Project Introduction

Planetary surface exploration on Asteroids, the Moon, Mars and Martian Moons will require the stabilization of loose, fine, dusty regolith to avoid the effects of vertical lander rocket plume impingement, to keep abrasive and harmful dust from getting lofted and for dust free operations. In addition, the same regolith stabilization process can be used for 3 Dimensional (3D) printing, additive construction techniques by repeating the 2D stabilization in many vertical layers. This will allow in-situ construction with regolith so that materials will not have to be transported from Earth. The goal is to prove the feasibility of 3D printing additive construction using planetary regolith and show structural integrity and practical applications in space exploration.

Recent work in the NASA Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Surface Systems Office (NE-S) Swamp Works and at the University of Southern California (USC) under two NASA Innovative Advanced Concept (NIAC) awards have shown promising results with regolith (crushed basalt rock) materials for in-situ heat shields, bricks, landing/launch pads, berms, roads, and other structures that could be fabricated using regolith that is sintered or mixed with a polymer binder. 

These results indicate that the unique properties of granular planetary regolith are well suited for use as a construction material with high insulation values, low densities and  good  manipulation characteristics. Examples of regolith manipulation processes are solar heat sintering, microwave sintering, laser sintering, polymer binders, compaction, regolith paste extrusion  and waterless concrete forming .

Methods of transferring regolith to a “3D Print Head” mounted on a robotic arm will be developed to investigate the feasibility of adhering the regolith particles together in successive 2D layers to achieve a 3D printing additive manufacturing proof of concept process with net shape characteristics of useful structures such as blast walls, landing pads, habitats, bricks, roads, antenna towers, heat shields and even propellant tanks. This will result in high mass savings as local in-situ regolith is without transporting material and equipment from Earth. Power consumption per product kilogram is determined for each transfer method.

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Technology Maturity (TRL)

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