A team of scientists from the Institute of Space Systems (IRAS) of the Technical University of Braunschweig and the Laser Zentrum Hannover eV (LZH), succeeded in melting lunar dust with a laser, the first step to turn it into the building blocks of the first lunar village .
Lunar dust is what is found on the surface of the Moon: after melting and cooling, it becomes a solid body suitable for building complete infrastructures such as foundations, paths and landing surfaces.
What this project, which has been in development for two years, aims to do is simulate on Earth what would have to be done on the surface of our satellite to make building blocks with lunar dust or regolith.
The last step in this journey has consisted of laboratory experiments carried out with a laser located in the robotic arm that in turn will land on the Moon to repeat what was learned on Earth.
The researchers will test their technology, called MOONRISE, in a real setting: their robotic arm will travel to the Moon aboard the Rover Audi lunar Quattro which the Berlin-based company PTScientist plans to ship this year.
The scientists want to take advantage of the trip to melt regolith directly on the lunar surface in a controlled way using their laser system. In the last two years, they have developed a laser head that is roughly the size of a box and has already passed the necessary temperature-vacuum and vibration tests.
During the laboratory experiment, the robotic arm controlled the laser head to melt regoliths and “print” joint lanes on that replica of moondust, similar to how it will do it on the day it is on our satellite.
Einstein elevator Previously, scientists had adapted the composition of the regolith to the conditions expected at the landing site.
During the early phases of the experiment, the researchers calculated the duration of irradiation required to melt the regolith, as well as the power of the laser.
The regolith was then melted in a vacuum chamber called Einstein elevator: a classic drop tower with which experiments are carried out under microgravity conditions.
“We managed to melt regolith into spheres, both under total weightlessness and under lunar gravity. This is unique in the world! ”, One of the architects of the technological prowess, Ludger Overmeyer, declares exultant in a release.
Enrico Stoll, another of the researchers, adds: “We were able to precisely control the laser head on the arm of the space exploration vehicle (Rover) and thus melt larger structures with precision. A great success! We already have a solid foundation for laser 3D printing on the Moon. ‘
The researchers’ next step is to turn the laser head into a model that could print building materials for entire settlements from moondust.
Spacial base The Moon is increasingly emerging as the first step in the colonization of space, something until now considered typical of science fiction, but in practice it has become something plausible thanks to technology.
At present, the great powers have initiated programs to return to the Moon and use it as a place of passage to continue to Mars.
Given its close proximity to Earth, almost 385,000 kilometers that can be covered in less than a week of travel, it is relatively easy to develop and supply a lunar base for research purposes, but also as an intermediate station for more distant targets.
The best option to convert this dream in reality is to manufacture most of the components of the lunar base on the satellite itself, since each kilogram of cargo that we bring to our satellite costs close to one million euros.
The aim of German technology is to solve this challenge with a system that can obtain the raw material from the infrastructures of the abundant regolith and even manufacture the necessary constructions for the first lunar village with blocks of regolith.
Top photo: Robotic construction technologies for lunar infrastructures. Credit: NASA.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.