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NEWS
Lunar Rock-like Material May Someday House Moon Colonies
January 16, 2009

Dwellings in colonies on the moon one day may be built with new, highly durable bricks developed by students from the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech. 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. The invention recently won the In-Situ Lunar Resource Utilization materials and construction category award from the Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems (PISCES). The award was one of two prizes given out this year by the research center, which is dedicated to supporting life on the moon and beyond. Design work on the early-development lunar bricks was based on previous work by the College of Engineering student team’s advisor Kathryn Logan, a professor of materials science and engineering and the Virginia Tech Langley Professor at the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA) in Hampton, Va. The seven-member student team works with Professor Logan at the NIA.

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), Professor Logan said. 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. Mr. Faierson said one-square inch of the brick could withstand the gradual application of 2,450 pounds, nearly the weight of a Ford Focus. This strength would enable it to withstand an environment where gravity is a fraction of the pull on Earth. The more than yearlong ongoing research has included studying the bricks reaction to solar radiation and their effectiveness as a construction material for lunar applications.


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