Incus, a leading provider of Lithography-based Metal Manufacturing (LMM) solutions, has announced the completion of a joint 18-month project to test the feasibility of its LMM Technology for Lunar Environment. The goal was to figure out how to do 3D printing and zero-waste workflow on the moon.
The project’s goal was to create a long-term process that uses lunar resources and recycled scrap metals, eventually contaminated by lunar dust, to produce spare parts on the Moon that could aid and improve human settlement. The efficient use of lunar resources and the recycling of scrap metals are critical to the development of a long-term Moon base.
LMM Technology for Lunar Environment
The ESA-sponsored project (European Space Agency), developed by Incus and Lithoz GmbH with the coordination of OHB System AG as prime contractor, aimed to investigate the feasibility of processing lunar scrap metals (which could be recovered from debris from old missions or old satellites) to produce high-quality printed parts using additive manufacturing (AM), specifically Lithography-based Metal Manufacturing, while also taking potential in situ contamination by using lunar regolith into account.
Metal Manufacturing based on lithography was chosen for its ability to print from recycled metal waste as well as its ease and safety during printing and post-processing. The LMM technology used in the project can print from scrap metals using pre-mixed feedstock, eliminating the need for free and loose powder and any support structures, resulting in a zero-waste workflow that is sustainable. The project also included the creation of a green binder as well as the optimisation of pre- and post-processing steps in order to print and test various demonstrators for future lunar applications.
The harsh lunar environment, including the atmosphere, gravity, temperature, radiation, and the potential contamination of moon dust, is the most difficult challenge for lunar additive manufacturing. Incus 3D printing solution, Hammer Lab35, on the other hand, was able to print recycled Titanium powder while maintaining proper part quality. The strength of the produced parts was comparable to Metal Injection Moulded Titanium parts standards (1000-1050 MPa).
The project’s findings have far-reaching implications for the future of space exploration and the establishment of long-term Moon bases.
Dr. Gerald Mitteramskogler, CEO of Incus said, “This project has proven that LMM technology is able to use recycled powder for the feedstock material and provide sustainable zero-waste workflow.”
Dr. Gerald Mitteramskogler added, “We expect that further developments in metal recycling technologies will open the way to metal materials with more settled sintering processes for the lunar environment.”
The optimal scenario for the 3D printing habitat on the Moon base is comparable to that on Earth, with reduced gravity and human-graded radiation shielding, ensuring that no major changes or redesigns are required aside from the 3D printer’s size, mass, and volume reduction.
According to Dr. Martina Meisnar, Materials and Processes Engineer at ESA, “Considering the challenge of bringing humans back to the Moon and building a base, the topic of in-situ resource utilisation (ISRU) is gaining significant momentum. Projects like this, recently completed by Incus and project partners, demonstrate that manufacturing methods like LMM are very good candidates to support such an endeavour.”
“This successful collaboration showed that lithography-based AM techniques are among the most promising candidates to let 3D printing in space become a reality in the future,”– Dr. Martin Schwentenwein, Head of Material Development at Lithoz
According to Francesco Caltavituro, System Engineer for the project at OHB, “The use of local lunar resources, as well as the recycling of old spacecraft, are essential for a sustainable and Earth-independent Moon base. Through this project, it was proven that the LMM technology is able to use recycled powder sources as feedstock material. Furthermore, it was demonstrated that contaminations for the powder sources by using lunar regolith simulant are manageable, especially from the perspective of the printing process. With those aspects in mind, as well as the future challenges already foreseen and anticipated, upcoming research and development will be able to continue and open-up further the way towards a sustainable Moon settlement finally released from Earth dependency.”
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