3D printing scrap metal on the moon

The European Space Agency (ESA) has completed an 18-month project focusing on recycling lunar scrap metals into metal powder for use in additive manufacturing (AM).

According to the Agency, lithography-based metal manufacturing (LMM) was selected for its ability to print from scrap metals using pre-mixed feedstock, without free and loose powder and the need for any support structures, offering a sustainable zero-waste workflow.

The project also included the development of a green binder and the optimization of pre and post-processing steps to print and test different demonstrators for future lunar applications.

The Hammer Lab35 3D printer, supplied by Austria-based Incus, was reportedly able to print recycled titanium powder while producing parts with a a high level of strength comparable to metal injection molded (MIM) titanium parts standards (1000-1050 MPa).

“This project has proven that LMM technology is able to use recycled powder for the feedstock material and provide sustainable zero-waste workflow,” said Incus CEO Dr Gerald Mitteramskogler. “We expect that further developments in metal recycling technologies will open the way to metal materials with more settled sintering processes for the lunar environment.”

“the use of local lunar resources, as well as the recycling of old spacecraft, are essential for a sustainable and Earth-independent moon base,” said Francesco Caltavituro, system engineer at space company OHB System AG, which also worked on the project with ceramic specialists Lithoz GmbH. “Through this project, it was proven that the LMM technology is able to use recycled powder sources as feedstock material. Furthermore, it was demonstrated that contaminations for the powder sources by using lunar regolith simulant are manageable, especially from the perspective of the printing process. With those aspects in mind, as well as the future challenges already foreseen and anticipated, upcoming research and development will be able to continue and open-up further the way towards a sustainable moon settlement finally released from Earth dependency.”