Future Astronauts Might be Able to 3D Print Their own Spacesuits and Parts as Needed

One of the best motivators to solve a problem is to experience it yourself.  Dr. Bonnie Dunbar happened to have just such an experience. She is a former NASA astronaut and is now a professor of Aerospace Engineering at Texas A&M. While she was in the astronaut corps, she realized that some of her fellow astronauts couldn’t fit in an Extra Vehicular Activity suit – more commonly known as a spacesuit.  So she decided not only to create one for the individuals with the original problem but to create a process by which any other astronaut launched on any future mission can have a spacesuit tailored to their own specific body. And now, her former employer (NASA) is funding her and her lab to complete a feasibility study of this customization process as part of the recently announced NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program.

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Astronaut Blood and Urine Could Help Build Structures on the Moon

Thinking outside the box has always been a strong suit of space exploration.  Whether taking a picture of the Earth in a sunbeam or attempting to land a rocket on a floating ship, trying new things has been a continual theme for those interested in learning more about the universe.  Now, a team from the University of Manchester has come up with an outside-the-box solution that could help solve the problem of building infrastructure in space – use astronauts themselves as bioreactors to create the building blocks of early colonies.

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NASA Sends a 3D Printer for Lunar Regolith and More to the ISS

One of the reasons the ISS is still alive and kicking is that it offers a unique environment for testing that is available nowhere, either on the Earth or off of it.  Plenty of science experiments want to take advantage of that uniqueness.  This week, a fresh crop of experiments was delivered to the ISS aboard a Northrop Grumman Cygnus resupply craft.  They range from 3D printers to a high school science experiment with mold, and now they each have the opportunity to make use of the ISS’s microgravity environment.

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The Lunar Lantern Could be a Beacon for Humanity on the Moon

In October of 2024, NASA’s Artemis Program will return astronauts to the surface of the Moon for the first time since the Apollo Era. In the years and decades that follow, multiple space agencies and commercial partners plan to build the infrastructure that will allow for a long-term human presence on the Moon. An important part of these efforts involves building habitats that can ensure the astronauts’ health, safety, and comfort in the extreme lunar environment.

This challenge has inspired architects and designers from all over the world to create innovative and novel ideas for lunar living. One of these is the Lunar Lantern, a base concept developed by ICON (an advanced construction company based in Austin, Texas) as part of a NASA-supported project to build a sustainable outpost on the Moon. This proposal is currently being showcased as part of the 17th International Architecture Exhibition at the La Biennale di Venezia museum in Venice, Italy.

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Relativity Space Gets a Huge Investment to Take on SpaceX With Reusable Rockets

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and that competition is a great way to foster progress and innovation. If these truisms are to be believed, then the NewSpace industry is destined to benefit from the presence of Relativity Space, a commercial space company based in Los Angeles. At the same time, SpaceX founder Elon Musk should be flattered that Tim Ellis and Jordan Noone (founders of Relativity Space) are following his example.

Roughly six years ago, Ellis and Noone founded Relativity for the purpose of using new technologies to disrupt the aerospace industry. Earlier this week (Tuesday, June 8th), the company announced that it had raised an additional $650 million in private capital. This money will go towards the development of rockets that are entirely 3D-printed and fully reusable, as well as the creation of a new class of heavy launch vehicles known as the “Terran-R.”

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How Would We Do Surgery in Space?

Virtually rendered cutaway view of a postulated traumapod surgical module. Multiple layers of thermal and radiation shielding are visible. A four?armed surgical robot is situated within the module. The patient is tethered to the operating table, while the assistant, using a touchscreen console, is tethered to the module structure via a movable chair. Illustration by T. Trapp (https://www.planvis.co.uk) CC BY-SA 4.0

Any mission to Mars requires deeper planning than missions to the ISS or the Moon. Based purely on the length of the mission, contingencies branch outwards in complex logistical pathways. What if there’s an accident? What if someone’s appendix bursts?

And what if surgery is needed?

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Astronaut Pee Will Help Build Bases on the Moon

Artist's impression of a lunar base created with 3-d printing techniques. Credits: ESA/Foster + Partners

In the next few decades, NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), China, and Russia all plan to create outposts on the lunar surface that will allow for a permanent human presence. These proposals seek to leverage advances in additive manufacturing (aka. 3-D printing) with In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) to address the particular challenges of living and working on the Moon.

For the sake of their International Moon Village, the ESA has been experimenting with “lunacrete” – lunar regolith combined with a bonding agent to create a building material. But recently, a team of researchers conducted a study (in cooperation with the ESA) that found that lunacrete works even better if you add a special ingredient that the astronauts make all by themselves – urine!

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Using Bacteria to Build a Base on Mars

Credit: TU Delft

When it comes to plans for future missions to space, one of the most important aspects will be the use of local resources and autonomous robots. This process is known as In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU), which reduces the amount of equipment and resources that need to be sent ahead or brought along by a mission crew. Meanwhile, autonomous robots can be sent ahead of a crew and have everything prepared for them in advance.

But what about bacteria that can draw iron from extraterrestrial soil, which would then be used to 3D print metal components for a base? That is the idea that is being proposed by PhD candidate Benjamin Lehner of the Delft University of Technology. On Friday (Nov. 22nd), he defended his thesis, which calls for the deployment of an uncrewed mission to Mars that will convert regolith into useable metal using a bacteria-filled bioreactor.

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MOONRISE: Melting lunar regolith with lasers to build structures on the Moon

MOONRISE technology in action on the moon. Left the lunar module ALINA, right the rover with the MOONRISE technology – with the laser switched on, melting moon dust. Credit: LZH

The Moon is not just Earth’s closest celestial neighbor. It’s also a natural waypoint for any mission that will be going to Mars or beyond in the coming years. It’s little wonder then why space agencies like NASA, Roscosmos, the ESA and China are hoping to send crewed missions there in the near future and construct bases that could be used to resupply and refuel missions headed to deep space.

So far, all the proposals made for a lunar base have centered on in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) and 3D printing – where robots will manufacture the base out of lunar regolith. For this purpose, the Laser Zentrum Hannover (LZH) and the Institute of Space Systems (IRAS) at the Technical University of Braunschweig came together to develop a laser system capable of turning moon dust into building materials.

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