Using Lunar Soil for Construction in Space

Using Lunar Soil for Construction in Space

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It is a well known fact that concrete is considered as the globally accepted construction material on earth. On the other hand, concrete in space was still mysterious when the researchers wrote this paper. However, some prior research indicated that there is possibility of lunar soil could be utilized as a construction material in space. A team of Master Builders, Inc. and Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS), a student group at the University of Alabama in Huntsville instigated such unique, ongoing, fundamental research program for concrete in space, particularly in moon. The researchers mainly focused research on hydration mechanism of Portland cement in microgravity and search out some potential improvement on earth concrete.
As mentioned in the paper, the research program was divided in to four major phases commenced from preliminary feasibility study of experiment to concluding testing and evaluation of intended material properties. In this study, finding prospective microgravity environment with enough time for experiment (basically for concrete mixing and curing) and flexible hardware interface for specialized experimental devices were the foremost challenges for the successful research. The author’s state that they explored four earth based microgravity environment from the different sources, NASA Space Shuttle was the most convenient one because it could provide sufficient time of microgravity environment for experiment and, fortunately, there was an additional NASA’s GAS (Gas Away Special) experimental program for the purpose of supporting use of space for all the researchers. After all, the researchers set the experimental program entitled as Conic (Concrete Curing and Mixing in Microgravity).
For such experiment, design of fully automated concrete mixing chamber in microgravity environment was the challenging task for the researchers although it is somewhat simple effort on earth. Reviewing the preceding research literatures and exercising many prototype models, eventually, they succeeded to develop a mixing chamber controlled by the microprocessor by means of autonomous specialized hardware system.
In this study, many experiments on earth confirmed that mortar was better than concrete regarding as block and jam action of mixing blades by coarse aggregate in concrete. Eventually, they established the most suitable design proportion of mortar as 1.25 parts type I portland cement, 1.25 parts ASTM C109 standard sand, 0.5 parts water and 8 floz/cwt of water reducing admixture.
Observing the experimental schedule in paper, it is seen that researchers have completed the entire task and looked forward for the final shuttle flight.

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As per design specification mentioned in the paper, experiment would start after two hours when shuttle reached the orbit. Initially, temperature sensor would monitor the temperature of environment inside the canister and continue up to 3 days. Secondly, after two minutes motor would start work for mixing mortar up to 30 minutes and curing would continue until 9 days before shuttle leaving for earth.
Once the shuttle back to earth, Researchers have intended to investigate the recorded data in space, test the mortar to identify physical and mechanical properties and, finally, compare the test result with similar mortar fabricated in the same mixing chamber under similar conditions of temperature and pressure.
Few unclear points:
• Is it a good way to fabricate mortar in space under microgravity and all other tests on earth under gravity? Will these tests give representative results while use in space?
• Is it a sufficient curing time (just 9 days) for mortar to gain full strength while on earth it may take more than a month under normal conditions?
• To my knowledge, in microgravity environment, all the materials feel like weightless. In mixing chamber, if all the materials are weightless, is it possible to produce uniform and homogenous mortar?

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