3D Printing With (Ersatz) Moon Dust

When the people of Earth set up bases on the moon, you can imagine that 3D printing will be a key enabling technology. Of course, you could ship plastic or other filament at great cost. But what if you could print with something you can already find on the moon? Like moon dust. NASA thinks it is possible and has been doing tests on doing just that. Now [Virtual Foundry] wants to let you have a shot at trying it yourself. It doesn’t really contain moon dust, but their Basalt Moon Dust Filamet has a similar composition. You can see a video about the material below.

It isn’t cheap, but it is probably cheaper than going up there to get some yourself. At least for now. The company is known for making PLA with various metal and ceramic materials. Like their other filaments, you print it more or less like PLA, although you need a large hardened nozzle, and they suggest a prewarmer to heat the filament before going to the hot end.

They recommend printing at 210 °C and 135% flow rate. The material contains about 60% basalt, and after sintering at a very high temperature, the remaining material is all basalt.

This isn’t the first time we’ve looked at filament that mixes in metal or ceramics. We’ve seen copper-laden filament from Virtual Foundry used to make rocket nozzles.

29 thoughts on “3D Printing With (Ersatz) Moon Dust

    1. What’s the difference regarding other high end special stuff. I don’t buy satellites, rockets or telescopes either. But I do like reading about the new concepts and technology. In other words, there are plenty of readers who do like articles like this. Keep ‘m coming.

    1. If the concept of FDM through a nozzle moon dust printing actually makes sense enough to try and survives the first trial phase with the distances involved the hotend for the ‘real thing’ will be a solid diamond or something similarly insanely hard and durable for the wear resistance… The cost of grinding out a really really hard nozzle and any further engineering that may be needed so it can survive the thermal cycles without working itself out of the heat block etc will be well worth it compared to sending many replacements and a mechanism for the replacement of them.

      Seems to me though like entirely the wrong method for moon printing – surely the metal powder printer methodology is more directly able to use moondust, and likely will work out easier logistically.

        1. That I expect will vary across the surface – I doubt its sufficiently uniform in composition we can say anything universally, but we really don’t have enough information (to my knowledge anyway – but while interested not a major area I’ve studied.). Either way you’d almost certainly be then sintering these plastic binder with lots of moon dust fill to make a ‘solid’ moondust part – so you have to be able to create a larger area of around that heat anyway… I suppose its possible you are just filling the plastic for bulk to make it go further.

    2. Well, perhaps with a decent coated or diamond (or other hard stone) insets, it won’t chew that much. And if you can make the insets replaceable, shipping tiny diamond doughnuts will probably not offset the benefits.

  1. Well, I just saw a wc sign on printables. It said, in Polish, that every man is a 3D printer. Starting mixing that with moon dust and we may have a way to shield the upper surfaces of our dwellings on the Moon. And to make Matt Damon happy you build an indoor potato facility.
    Stop complainig, there is not an atmosphere, it wont smell.

      1. As I don’t know how to properly post a link here, please go to printables_com, search for “jest” and you’ll find user “Samael” and his black on orange sign with Polish text. That is the origin of my initial comment as I just saw it before reading the HaD article and perhaps with the language barrier dropped you’ll understand the real meaning of the sign. Do widzenia.

    1. $400 for 0.5 kg, so $800 for a normal sized spool. Also the basalt is 2.9 g/cm^3 which is considerably higher than PLA and since basalt makes up 60 % of the filament then that makes the filament much denser (both if you consider the 60 % by mass or by volume) and hence for the same mass you get shorter filament.

      You really aren’t getting much for your money. This isn’t made for hobbyists, the cost and need to sinter it puts it out of most hobbyists price range and capabilities. Instead this is likely for companies who are planning or are interested in printing on the moon.

  2. One of the largest challenges in 3d printing on the moon is the lack of gravity. It isn’t talked about much, as everyone seems very concerned about the materials (rightly so, as well). Anyone that has 3D printed here on Earth knows the troubles of finding the sweet spot where all the parameters fit and result in a nice print. When you have to do this without the help of gravity being able to reliably assist in placing the filament where you want it to go, you suddenly recognise that it is one of the most important and stable variables in the equation. Simply varying the printhead speed, flow rate, or extrusion pressure in a low gravity environment will have surprising results on how the filament coming out of the nozzle behaves. Material adhesion only goes so far in holding things in place when Newton enters the arena with his silly laws.

    1. I don’t think gravity is really important for FDM in general, the machine just needs to be built for it – you do get plenty of printers that print upside down with no issue. Including printers running on the ISS at times.

      Perhaps you can’t get away with the sloppy tolerances of the cheapest hotends – the ones that can’t handle even a slightly flexible filament without tangles or the screws with huge backlash without gravity to help guide and control, but properly engineered the only thing gravity is going to be handy for is stopping the machine walking its way off the table I’d suggest.

  3. Perfect material for placing portals on
    Alternatively, how would this stuff fare in a 3D printed AR lower receiver? I know this article is an ad but I’m really curious how a gun printed in the stuff would hold up because it’s a pretty strong indication of how strong it is if it can withstand being asploded

  4. always thought any permanent construction on the moon would simply be making concrete from regolith, especially if water is found there. inflate a dome and start mixing inside and pump over inner form or whatever. Would hope some of the first tests done on surface would be to see if this works, and maybe just tiny amounts of water + vacuum cementing may work? After you figure out basic shelter you can play with power supplies or solar furnace to start sintering/plasma spraying stuff.

  5. I would think that microwave sintering of regolith would be more practical than using a PLA and regolith mixture in a 3D printer.


    On the moon, you’ve got sunlight for energy and all the regolith you can stand. Imported plastic would be expensive, given the cost of transport to the moon.

    As far as that goes, it ought to be possible to sinter regolith using just a (big) parabolic mirror.

    1. Tunnels in hard rock.

      Why do you think old Musky bought the boring company?
      Not to make super expensive, buried private traffic lanes.

      Raises the question: Just how light could you make a lunar or martian TBM? I don’t see how a traditional TBM could work. Rather a few robot miners of some sort. Perhaps breaking rock with freezing water down drilled holes.

      1. Drill holes with solar power, fill with local water.
      2. When sun sets, switch robots to just don’t freeze heating.
      3. Muck out tunnel in morning.
      4. ?
      5. Profit!

      Might work easier once below the temp swing, assuming the deep rock is cold enough. On the lunar poles, cold as Hillary’s…

      If I was Elon, I’d put dad on the job. No substitute for experience. Truth: I don’t know if he’s a pit miner or tunnel.

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