Home » NASA funds four lunar construction tech R&D projects

NASA funds four lunar construction tech R&D projects

by Sion Geschwindt
NASA backs four R&D projects for lunar construction tech  

As NASA prepares to send astronauts back to the moon, the space agency is funding a series of research and development (R&D) projects focused on turning lunar regolith into landing pads, blast shields, and other useful structures.

NASA recently selected four R&D projects for funding under its Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program. The projects, which partner small businesses with academia, will each receive up to $150,000 (£118,753) apiece for studies lasting 13 months.

Project one

Astroport and the University of Texas at San Antonio are working to develop a BrickLayer system for building lunar launch and landing pads (LLPs).

The BrickLayer uses feedstock of raw regolith to produce bricks in a single-step lunar regolith melting, brick forming and placement method without use of grouts or mortar for landing pad creation, or for any flat hardened surface area such as roads or foundations.

“To enable the brickmaking process, our proposed innovation is a multi-step process of regolith works executed by multiple machines operating autonomously or in remote control mode with step sequencing/timing to enable machine-to-machine collaboration.

“The process includes construction system components using two separate mobility platform types, one for landing zone site preparation and another for LLP production,” the proposal summary said.

Project two

Cislune has teamed with the University of Central Florida (UCF) to develop a set of technologies aimed at extracting and processing lunar regolith for use in building structures.

“Cislune and UCF propose a site preparation architecture that relies upon in-situ resources and a small number of rovers and excavators working as a swarm to build durable lunar surfaces with size-sorted and then compacted lunar regolith. Efficient manipulation of bulk regolith via size-sorting and compaction is the most efficient architecture for lunar site preparation,” the proposal said.

Project three

Contour Crafting Corp. and the University of Southern California are teaming to develop a conveyance system known as CrafTram that would be capable of performing the task of moving lunar regolith that on Earth are performed by loaders or trucks.

“All material conveyance equipment for Earth work are generally too large, and heavy and hence their design is not suitable for being flown to the Moon and operated there. Furthermore, such equipment are power-hungry and infeasible to operate using the limited energy sources accessible on the Moon,” the proposal summary said.

The autonomous CrafTram would be super lightweight and compact, foldable to fit into a rocket cargo compartment, use a small amount of energy, and be capable of transporting material between different elevations both uphill and downhill.

Project four

Lunar Outpost is teaming with Michigan Technological University to develop “a set of analytical tools, which will take such parameters as lander size and payload weight, and return a set of optimal structures to build as well as strategies for their construction, including layer-based geometries, compaction levels and verification, and more.

“Additionally, a set of construction tools (scrapers, compacters, etc.) will be recommended for use with Lunar Outpost rovers for In-Situ Resource Utilization of the present regolith for construction of infrastructure. A Concept of Operations describing the timeline, equipment, and procedures for this construction will also be developed under the scope of this proposal,” the document said.  

Image: An artist’s impression of the Astroport (Credit: Astroport)

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