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RegoLight Project Uses Sunlight Sintering to 3D Print with Simulated Lunar Regolith

Using the sintering process, the RegoLight team seeks to design and produce a single ‘building element;’ made of printed regolith simulant by a novel new mobile printer. Advanced printing technologies, using readily available resources on the Moon will provide new possibilities for the construction of space architecture and can set new criteria for mission requirements.

The RegoLight project received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme. Project partners include five European companies and research institutions working together: DRL Cologne, Germany; Space Applications Services, Belgium; LIQUIFER Systems Group, Austria; COMEX, France, Bollinger + Grohmann engineers, Austria.

The project builds on the successful demonstration of core concepts from previous studies and leverages the expertise and resources of the consortium members. DLR being on the same campus as ESA’s EAC further increases the synergies of the consortium. RegoLight is strategically aligned with the International Space Exploration Coordination Group (ISECG) General Exploration Roadmap that of which has interest in advancing the capabilities needed for future exploration missions. The development of in-situ resource utilization technologies and methodologies will enhance the competitiveness of the European space sector.

Building a permanent outpost on the Moon will be a major step in the exploration of Space and will provide a test environment for the preparation of missions to Mars and beyond. As part of the project, bricks have been 3D printed out of simulated moondust using concentrated sunlight – proving in principle that future lunar colonists could one day use the same approach to build settlements on the Moon. Advenit Makaya from ESA was invited for the EU H2020 RegoLight project review in February this year where he gave feed-back to the RegoLight project.

“We took simulated lunar material and cooked it in a solar furnace,” explained Makaya. “This was done on a 3D printer table, to bake successive 0.1 mm layers of moondust at 1000°C. We can complete a 20 x 10 x 3 cm brick for building in around five hours.”

 As raw material, the test used commercially available simulated lunar soil based on terrestrial volcanic material, processed to mimic the composition and grain sizes of genuine moondust. The solar furnace at the DLR German Aerospace Center facility in Cologne has two working setups. As a baseline, 147 curved mirrors focus sunlight into a high-temperature beam to melt the soil grains together. But the weather in northern Europe does not always cooperate, so the Sun is sometimes simulated by an array of xenon lamps more typically found in cinema projectors.

The resulting bricks have the equivalent strength of gypsum, and are set to undergo detailed mechanical testing.

Some bricks show some warping at the edges, Advenit adds, because their edges cool faster than the centre:  “We’re looking how to manage this effect, perhaps by occasionally accelerating the printing speed so that less heat accumulates within the brick. But for now this project is a proof of concept, showing that such a lunar construction method is indeed feasible.”

The demonstration took place in standard atmospheric conditions, but RegoLight will probe the printing of bricks in representative lunar conditions: vacuum and high-temperature extremes.”

The solar furnace at the DLR German Aerospace Center facility in Cologne has two working setups. As a baseline, 147 curved mirrors focus sunlight into a high-temperature beam. But the weather in northern Europe does not always cooperate, so the Sun is sometimes simulated by an array of xenon lamps more typically found in cinema projectors.

About the Regolight Project

Lunar environment

Using parameters for southern polar area, RegoLight looks to design a system of building that utilizes in-situ resources.

Construction Method  the ‘bottom up’ / ’detailed’ approach

RegoLight aims at enhancing the additive layer manufacturing technique of ‘solar sintering’ and considers three different possible ways in which to sinter the regolith material; to move the sand bed, move the solar beam, or to concentrate the beam into a fibre optic

Mirrored surface / Concentration of solar beam  In the test facilities at DLR, solar rays are collected from the natural outdoor environment, using a mosaic of mirrored surfaces that concentrate the solar energy to a single beam.

Movable – Bed/Printing Head  Since the solar beam is concentrated at a certain point in space, the material to be shaped must move around the solar beam. A moveable table, capable of moving in x,y,z, axis (an x,y,z translation table) will be designed. Alternatively, a movable printing head with regolith feeder will be developed.

Simulant lunar material  will be fully characterized to optimize the additive manufacturing process of a building element with a fine structure.

Vacuum chamber developed technology will be transferred to a vacuum chamber to get closer to a representative lunar environment, thus achieving a Technology Readiness Level of 5.

*This article was modified on July 21st to reflect that RegoLight has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme.  Project partner are five European companies and research institutions working together: DRL Cologne, Germany; Space Applications Services, Belgium; LIQUIFER Systems Group, Austria; COMEX, France, Bollinger + Grohmann engineers, Austria.

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