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NASA offers a viable solution. It’s in NASA’s DNA to pioneer and inhabit new lands, and as a result, the agency is taking technology to a level where no man has gone before.
The thought of the logistics to build on other planets is a bit mind-numbing. Shipping large quantities of cement or materials, for example, isn’t practical or cost effective.
So NASA, in collaboration with Autodesk, is using new additive manufacturing technology, combined with the latest advancements in material science, that can eventually build habital structures for living on the moon or a planet. With the necessary funding, NASA estimates building a prototype structure on either Mars or the moon, by 2023.
Additive manufacturing uses 3D printing to create things from a digital design. This would work on the moon’s or planet’s surface, using natural resources such as crushed rock that is plentiful on both the moon and Mars. By mixing small amounts of plastic waste with these natural resources, a cement-like structure is formed and composited into place using robotic instruments.
Behind the design is Autodesk’s Fusion 360, the first 3D CAD, CAM, and CAE tool of its kind. It connects the entire product development process in a single cloud-based platform.
Today, NASA’s Swamp Works lab is experimenting with 3D-printing habitable structures using a composite material made up of loose sediment (soil, dust, broken rock, etc.) and recycled plastic. The sediment can be widely found on Earth, other planets, the moon, and even asteroids.
The additive manufacturing (AM) sector as a whole continues to expand and evolve, but, the barriers to entry are still high and today true serial production with metal AM is not yet a widespread activity.
Here is an overview of five key issues that need to be addressed to drive metal AM towards series production applications.
Speaking of Earth ... the materials and techniques used on this project have the potential to revolutionize the way we do construction here. Plastic pollution could be recycled to sustainable 3D printed streets, sidewalks, playgrounds, and even habitable structures.
In fact, as part of its experimentation, NASA printed a jersey barrier—a barricade typically made of concrete or plastic that is commonly used seperating lanes of traffic in road construction zones. These barricades have complex internal structures, and as a result NASA worked with Autodesk engineers to refine NASA’s manufacturing process in order to replicate the complicated lateral shapes inside the jersey barrier.
Because these barricades must be tough and durable, this printing was designed to be a test case for the atmospheric pressure that habital structures would endure. And the experiment passed the test, with the composite proven to be strong and dependable.