You, Yes You, Can Now 3D Print with Moon Dust at Home

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Flying cars, housecleaning robots, 3D printing on the moon—all out-there sci-fi predictions that will probably come true sooner rather than later. But, what if you just can’t wait? Well, thanks to the mad scientists of Astroport Space Technologies and The Virtual Foundry, we can now bring a little bit of the Moon to our makerspaces with their Basalt Moon Dust Filamet.

The team at the Virtual Foundry are no stranger to off-beat 3D printer filaments. The company’s product line consists of over a dozen hybrid filaments combining metallic, ceramic and glass with PLA. Astroport Space Technologies is a recently formed subsidiary of Exploration Architecture Corporation (XArc),  an architectural firm that specializes in space-based construction. Astroport is currently developing the technology to refine and solidify lunar regolith into sustainable, durable. construction material. Last year, both Astroport and Xarc received $1.3 million from NASA to develop launch pads for extreme space environments.  It seems only natural that these two companies would come together to produce a 3D printer filament that aligns with their goals of democratizing material fabrication and enhancing the boundaries of space-based construction.

Planetary Habitat Model printed in Moon Dust Filamet.

Learning how to print with materials available on the moon’s surface will be critical to lunar construction efforts and the improvement of related technologies. Unfortunately, it is not currently possible to make authentic lunar regolith widely available. Basalt Moon Dust Filamet can change that, however. Composed of silicon, iron, magnesium, potassium, aluminum, titanium, and calcium, all bound with PLA, this printing material is designed to be a stand-in for lunar regolith. This filament boasts one more property that is sure to raise the interest of engineers and artists: it is fully sinterable. A trip through a sintering furnace will transform any objected printed with this into pure Basalt.

Some of you might be wondering what Earth-based FDM printing can still teach us about space-based construction, especially now that 3D printing in space seems to be moving towards embracing metal and computed axial lithography. Unfortunately, metals can suffer changes to their structure when printed in microgravity. Polymers demonstrate no such qualities and years of research has been dedicated to producing FDM printers capable of operating in the constraints of microgravity. The technology has come a long way since the ISS produced the first 3D printed part in space a decade ago, but there are still many more hurdles to clear.

And clearing those hurdles means someone needs to take the first jump. It wouldn’t be entirely surprising to see the two FDM printers already aboard the ISS test out some regolith-based material in the not-too-distant future.

While most hobbyist makers might scratch their heads at what to do with a material like this, there is someone whose imagination it will set ablaze. That this filament is available and capable of running through consumer grade 3D printers is remarkable. A hardened steel nozzle, a direct drive extruder, some tweaked slicer settings and you’re most of the way to designing something suitable for aerospace applications. Is it hyperbolic to say that the availability of this filament will light the spark that begins the next big thing in aerospace? Maybe, but only until it happens.

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