Students from the college of engineering at Virginia Tech in the US have made highly durable bricks composed of a lunar rock-like material, which one day might be used to build dwellings in colonies on the moon.
The invention won the In-Situ Lunar Resource Utilization materials and construction category award from the Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems (PISCES).
The team of students, under the advisement of Kathryn Logan, a professor in the materials science and engineering department, designed the brick as a potential building tool for future colonies on the moon.
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.
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, Virginia.
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), according to Logan.
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.
According to Faierson, one-square inch of the brick could withstand the gradual application of 2,450 pounds.
This strength would enable it to withstand an environment where gravity is a fraction of the pull on Earth.