March 16, 2021. By Kolemann Lutz
NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) selected a team proposing to use additive manufacturing with lunar regolith to build and anchor a stable landing pad for future moon missions.
The research publication entitled Regolith Adaptive Modification System (RAMs) to Support Early Extraterrestrial Planetary Landings (and Operations), would provide early-stage landing infrastructure that would be useful before deploying larger infrastructure such as sintering or polymerization equipment.
By using a combination of additive manufacturing methods, from 3D printing to nanotechnology, researchers propose coating all surfaces and making high-strength vanadium steel skins and anchors to weld anchor points to the regolith using a novel anchoring technique centred around precursors.
When heated, the precursors, nanothermites and organosilanes, blend together with the regolith to in-situ manufacture highly stable structures. Typically employed in the steel mill industry, the nano-anchoring method is powered in-situ from the highly exothermic reactions of the locally harvested minerals to form the bonds and stabilize the material.
The ISRU process delivers microcapsules that are chemically tuned to undergo exothermic reactions with the components of regolith to create geopolymerized subsurface slabs. Other advantages include the ability to bond dissimilar materials. The RAMs process enables
flexible landing pads, which are flown down to the surface, to be anchored directly to the regolith with minimal effort, ensuring that booster engine blasts will not move the landing and launch pad.
As one of 16 Phase 1 Fellows for the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Fellowship, RAMs was previously selected for the NIAC program with a focus on developing the flexible platforms themselves rather than the technique to anchor them to the ground.
Since steel is a man-made alloy that's made by mixing iron and carbon together, it can be formed from iron (III) oxide and atmospheric carbon on the surface.
The steel anchor would comprise a Magnesium-thermiting payload, which is derived from a mixture of finely powdered magnesium and iron oxide ignited by heat. Magnesium can also assist in the removal of sulfur during the production of iron and steel.
“If not controlled, dust will compromise operations, sensors, solar panels and other sensitive equipment and will infiltrate interiors of the spacecraft and eventually into the Gateway.” said Shumaker Birgisson.
“We see our research as more than a possible means of remediating roads or replacing concrete and one that allows for construction in difficult environments.”
The NIAC team is confident they can manufacture landing pads in-situ and other prepared materials from regolith on Mars.