Mars is missing in a large amount of natural resources that we've come to rely on here on Earth, and astronauts are trying to colonize or even visit, a red planet can bring a limited supply of material with itself. Learning what to do with what Mars offers is one of the biggest challenges for visiting our nearest neighbor, but the results of the latest experiments of the European Space Agency for 3D Print prove that this is not impossible.
We sent the probes and trenches to Mars, but to this day it was a one-way route. Our knowledge of what Mars has done is limited to what the Spirit and Opportunity can learn from the samples, and studying the Mars meteorites that have reached Earth. Like our Moon, if there is one thing Mars did not lack, it's dust.
So, as a booth for original Mars ingredients, the researchers turned into a simulated version of the lunar ground, also known as the lunar regolith.
In cooperation with an Australian firm called Lithoz, the ESA 3D-printing sample of various parts using a light sensitive bonding agent blended with regolith – made of silicone, aluminum, calcium and iron oxide that are ground to very fine dust.
Instead of heating the mixture, extruding it as a hot glue and letting it cool down and firming, the 3D printing technique used herein instead places very thin layers of the regolith mixture, exposed to light, thereby fastening the binding agent.
The parts are then baked in the oven to create a solid, ceramic material that is not only strong, but also has a smooth, even texture of the surface so that they are compatible with machine parts that are created with very high precision. If you have ever held a 3D printed object made of rendered plastic, apparent irregularities on its surface are easily recognized and problematic for use in precision machines.
The next step of the ESA is to thoroughly test the strength and durability of these 3D printed parts to determine if they can withstand rigorous travel and life in a harsher environment. In the end, instead of pulling a trailer full of spare parts, the Mars mission should simply bring a digital archive of all parts used in the ship and other structures, a 3D printer, and perhaps bins for collecting local land.[European Space Agency via designboom]