Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Lunar Rock-Like Material May Someday House Moon Colonies

06.01.2009
Dwellings in colonies on the moon one day may be built with new, highly durable bricks developed by students from the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech.

Initially designed to construct a dome, the building material is composed of a lunar rock-like material mixed with powdered aluminum that can be molded into any shape.

The invention recently won the In-Situ Lunar Resource Utilization materials and construction category award from the Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems (PISCES). The award was one of two prizes given out this year by the research center, which is dedicated to supporting life on the moon and beyond.

Design work on the early-development lunar bricks was based on previous work by the College of Engineering student team’s adviser Kathryn Logan, a professor of materials science and engineering and the Virginia Tech Langley Professor at the National Institute of Aerospace in Hampton, Va. The seven-member student team works with Logan at the NIA.

Logan’s prior research entailed mixing powdered aluminum and ceramic materials to form armor plating for tanks funded through a Department of Defense contract. “I theorized that if I could do this kind of reaction to make armor, then I could use a similar type of reaction to make construction materials for the moon,” Logan said.

Since actual lunar rock, known as regolith, is scarce, the students used volcanic ash from a deposit on Earth along with various minerals and basaltic glass, similar to rock on the lunar surface, according to Eric Faierson, a doctoral student who led the Virginia Tech team.

During initial experiments, the simulated regolith and aluminum powder were mixed and placed inside a shallow aluminum foil crucible. A wire was inserted into the mixture, which was then heated to 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit triggering a reaction called self-propagating high-temperature synthesis (SHS), Logan said. The reaction caused the material to form a solid brick. A ceramic crucible was used in later experiments to form complex curved surfaces.

Once the student team had created a brick, they found that it was almost as strong as concrete under various pressure tests. Faierson said one-square inch of the brick could withstand the gradual application of 2,450 pounds, nearly the weight of a Ford Focus. This strength would enable it to withstand an environment where gravity is a fraction of the pull on Earth. The more than yearlong ongoing research has included studying the bricks reaction to solar radiation and their effectiveness as a construction material for lunar applications.

The research team chose small bricks -- about one-third the size of a regular mason’s brick, or roughly 5 inches x 2.5 inches x 1 inch, and weighing about an eighth of a pound -- for quality control and to conserve materials. “Theoretically the material can be made in any size and shape, however performing the reaction on a larger scale increases the potential for” flaws in the end product, Faierson said. “Large scale implementation might be more appropriate in applications such as landing pads, roadways, and blast berms, where flaws are less of a concern.”

The group formed several brick shapes to demonstrate the concept of forming an igloo-like dome component, but did not build the full structure. Creation of larger bricks, about cinder block size, including those closer to perfectly formed shape, are forthcoming, Logan said. Also to be studied is the harnessing of large quantities of heat derived from the SHS reaction to produce electricity, and extract volatiles for the lunar colony.

One of the team members, Michael Hunt, a graduate student, studied the chemical composition of the aluminum powder and the regolith before the fusion process, and then the resulting brick compound. “It’s definitely exciting to have worked on the lunar brick project,” he said. “I never would have thought that I’d be a part of something like this,” Hunt said.

Judging by members of the Japan-United States Science, Technology & Space Applications Program, which included scientists from NASA and industry, was based on the novelty and thoughtfulness evidenced by the teams, their commitment to PISCES goals and objectives, and their compliance with the rules of the competition. PISCES is located in Hawaii, where volcanic geology gives scientists a landscape similar to the moon that can be used to test technology prior to possible lunar use.

Winning College of Engineering student team members included Faierson, a doctoral student in the materials science and engineering (MSE) department; Hunt, a MSE master’s degree candidate from Virginia Beach, Va.; Susan Holt, a doctoral student in MSE from Christiansburg, Va.; Scott Hopkins, an undergraduate mechanical engineering student from Yorktown, Va.; Sharon Jefferies, a masters student in the aerospace and ocean engineering department from Newport News, Va.; Michael Okyen, an undergraduate mechanical engineering student from Yorktown, Va.; and Brian Stewart, an MSE doctoral student from Hayes, Va.

A student team from Massachusetts Institute of Technology won the second award, in the category of systems engineering.

The Virginia Tech team at Hampton is part of the National Institute of Aerospace, a nonprofit research and graduate education institute. Formed in 2002 to support NASA’s mission of space exploration, the Institute’s graduate program offers masters and doctorate degrees in the fields of engineering and science through Georgia Tech, Hampton University, North Carolina A&T State University, North Carolina State University, the University of Maryland, the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech.

The College of Engineering (www.eng.vt.edu) at Virginia Tech is internationally recognized for its excellence in 14 engineering disciplines and computer science. The college’s 5,700 undergraduates benefit from an innovative curriculum that provides a “hands-on, minds-on” approach to engineering education, complementing classroom instruction with two unique design-and-build facilities and a strong Cooperative Education Program. With more than 50 research centers and numerous laboratories, the college offers its 1,800 graduate students opportunities in advanced fields of study such as biomedical engineering, state-of-the-art microelectronics, and nanotechnology. Virginia Tech, the most comprehensive university in Virginia, is dedicated to quality, innovation, and results to the commonwealth, the nation and the world.

Steven Mackay | Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://www.vt.edu

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Hope to discover sure signs of life on Mars? New research says look for the element vanadium
22.09.2017 | University of Kansas

nachricht Calculating quietness
22.09.2017 | Forschungszentrum MATHEON ECMath

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: The pyrenoid is a carbon-fixing liquid droplet

Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.

A warming planet

Im Focus: Highly precise wiring in the Cerebral Cortex

Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.

The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...

Im Focus: Tiny lasers from a gallery of whispers

New technique promises tunable laser devices

Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...

Im Focus: Ultrafast snapshots of relaxing electrons in solids

Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!

When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...

Im Focus: Quantum Sensors Decipher Magnetic Ordering in a New Semiconducting Material

For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.

Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

“Lasers in Composites Symposium” in Aachen – from Science to Application

19.09.2017 | Event News

I-ESA 2018 – Call for Papers

12.09.2017 | Event News

EMBO at Basel Life, a new conference on current and emerging life science research

06.09.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Rainbow colors reveal cell history: Uncovering β-cell heterogeneity

22.09.2017 | Life Sciences

Penn first in world to treat patient with new radiation technology

22.09.2017 | Medical Engineering

Calculating quietness

22.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>