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By A.J. Roan
Metal Tech News 

3D printing Stone Age domiciles: In Space!

Most recent cargo mission to ISS includes simulated space dirt Metal Tech News – August 11, 2021


Last updated 8/17/2021 at 3:05pm

Redwire Space NASA ISS International Space Station 3D printing Regolith Print

Redwire Space Inc.

The Redwire Regolith Print facility suite consists of Redwire's Additive Manufacturing Facility and the print heads, plates, and lunar regolith feedstock that will be launching to the International Space Station.

Researchers aboard the International Space Station will soon test the feasibility of 3D printing lunar structures with space mud. Being carried out alongside microgravity experiments on muscle cells and slime molds, mission-critical space systems specialist Redwire Space Inc. will test 3D printing in a microgravity environment using material simulating lunar and Martian soil to potentially lead to viable construction capabilities on other planets.

"The Redwire Regolith Print project is a tech demo of on-orbit additive manufacturing using regolith simulating feedstock material," said Redwire Space Chief Technology Officer Michael Snyder. "This represents a critical step in developing sustainable manufacturing capabilities for lunar surfaces that will ultimately establish a permanent human presence off-earth by utilizing available resources with adaptive systems. So this is really exciting for the future and hopefully, something like this gets eventually deployed on the moon."

Redwire is an American aerospace manufacturer and innovator known for developing ROSA (Roll-Out Solar Arrays), which was installed on the ISS earlier this year to help power the systems aboard the floating research station. Founded in 2020, the Florida-based space technology company has quickly established itself as a first choice for mission-critical space solutions.

As national space agencies like NASA continue to seek a permanent presence on the Moon and Mars, the use of raw resources available on-site to build structures and habitats is a long-time goal to reduce how much material future missions need to bring from Earth.

As a result, this could significantly reduce the launch mass and cost of future missions – upwards of US$1,500 per kilogram (2.2 pounds) – and provide a more sustainable method of constructing housing and other structures on planetary bodies.

Once installed on the ISS, the Redwire Regolith Print project will seek to demonstrate the potential for 3D printing with the simulated material in microgravity using the Made In Space additive manufacturing device currently housed aboard the station.

In addition, the printed specimens, in the form of plates, will eventually be brought back to Earth for replicating and undergo numerous stress tests.

"For this demonstration, an initial set of three specimens will be produced on the ISS," explained Snyder. "That will be done by installing newly developed manufacturing components into Redwire's existing additive manufacturing facility. Once those components or specimens are returned, NASA will test the material properties of the prints by performing destructive tests."

The Made In Space 3D printer was developed in partnership with NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center and was created to identify and test the methodology for traditional manufacturing in the U.S. on a lunar surface to support NASA's Artemis program.

It is a key phase of the Artemis program to create lunar infrastructures for future exploration missions to the surface that will be critical to humanity's sustainable presence on the moon and beyond, the Redwire CTO added.

RRP Made In Space additive manufacturing ROSA Roll-Out Solar Arrays space mud

Redwire Space Inc.

A preflight view of the RRP print heads, plates, and lunar regolith simulant feedstock.

"The capability has already been proven on Earth, but requires further validation in the space environment," said Snyder. "Operating both on the ground and in microgravity will increase the competence in the process for use on planetary bodies with gravity fields, including the Moon and Mars.

The RRP study is scheduled to launch today on Northrop Grumman's 16th commercial resupply services mission from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Other experiments and supplies also being launched to the ISS include engineered tissue to study muscle loss, slime mold, a flow boiling and condensation experiment, and thermal protection systems, among other things.

"The regolith print demonstration will be the first-ever test of manufacturing regolith simulate feedstock in space," Snyder added.


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