Research considers Martian regolith/Ti6Al4V composites for in-space Additive Manufacturing

October 19, 2022

(A) NASA's Curiosity Mars rover indicates the rover's scooping regolith samples for analysis (B) schematics of Directed Energy Deposition (DED) processing (Courtesy Amit Bandyopadhyay, as published in International Journal of Applied Ceramic Technology)
(A) NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover indicates the rover’s scooping regolith samples for analysis (B) schematics of Directed Energy Deposition (DED) processing (Courtesy Amit Bandyopadhyay, as published in International Journal of Applied Ceramic Technology)

In-situ Additive Manufacturing is a hot topic, whether for safety (as on a battlefield) or simply as the method that makes the most logistical sense in remote locations. This is especially the case when it comes to space exploration; it isn’t ideal to waste precious space with an inventory of spare parts or require a Martian delivery of components as problems arise. Researchers from Washington State University have recently investigated the use of Martian regolith (the layer of superficial deposits of dust, broken rocks, etc., covering bedrock) in Directed Energy Deposition (DED) Additive Manufacturing.

The results, published in The International Journal of Applied Ceramic Technology as ‘Martian regolith – Ti6Al4V composites via Additive Manufacturing,’ investigated the processability of 5, 10 and 100 wt.% of Martian regolith premixed with Ti6Al4V using DED. The researchers analysed the resultant additively manufactured structures via X-ray diffraction, Vicker’s microhardness, scanning electron microscopic (SEM) imaging and wear characteristics via an abrasive water jet cutter which was used to simulate the abrasive Martian environment.

The results indicate that the surface roughness and hardness of the composites increase with respect to the Martian regolith’s weight percentage due to in-situ ceramic reinforcement. For instance, i5-wt.% addition of Martian regolith increased the Vicker’s microhardness from 366 ± 6 HV0.2 for as-manufactured Ti64 to 730 ± 27 HV0.2 while maintaining similar abrasive wear performance as Ti6Al4V. The results are said to point toward laser-based Additive Manufacturing for fabricating Ti64— Martian regolith composites with comparable properties. The study also reveals what are called promising results in limiting the mass burden for future space missions, resulting in cheaper and easier launches.

The paper, by Ali Afrouzian, Kellen D Traxel and Amit Bandyopadhyay of Washington State University is available here in full.

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