Planetary surfaces are often covered in regolith (crushed rock), whose geologic origin is largely basalt. The lunar surface is made of small-particulate regolith and areas of boulders located in the vicinity of craters. Regolith composition also varies with location, reflecting the local bedrock geology and the nature and efficiency of the micrometeorite-impact processes.
In the lowland mare areas (suitable for habitation), the regolith is composed of small granules (20 – 100 microns average size) of mare basalt and volcanic glass. Impacting micrometeorites may cause local melting, and the formation of larger glassy particles, and this regolith may contain 10-80% glass.
Studies of lunar regolith are traditionally conducted with lunar regolith simulant (reconstructed soil with compositions patterned after the lunar samples returned by Apollo). The NASA Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Granular Mechanics & Regolith Operations (GMRO) lab has identified a low fidelity but economical geo-technical simulant designated as Black Point-1 (BP-1). It was found at the site of the Arizona Desert Research and Technology Studies (RATS) analog field test site at the Black Point lava flow in adjacent basalt quarry spoil mounds.
This paper summarizes activities at KSC regarding the utilization of BP-1 basalt regolith and comparative work with lunar basalt simulant JSC-1A as a building material for robotic additive construction of large structures. In an effort to reduce the import or in-situ fabrication of binder additives, we focused this work on in-situ processing of regolith for construction in a single-step process after its excavation. High-temperature melting of regolith involves techniques used in glassmaking and casting (with melts of lower density and higher viscosity than those of metals), producing basaltic glass with high durability and low abrasive wear. Most Lunar simulants melt at temperatures above 1100°C, although melt processing of terrestrial regolith at 1500°C is not uncommon. These temperatures are achievable by laser heating or by using solar concentrators. Similar to volcanic magma, the cooling rate determines the crystallite size – slower cooling develops larger crystals, and rapid quenching can result in fully amorphous glass.
Robert P. Mueller¹, Laurent Sibille², Paul E. Hintze³, Thomas C. Lippitt4, James G. Mantovani5, Matthew W. Nugent6, and Ivan I. Townsend7
1,4,5 NASA, Surface Systems Office, Kennedy Space Center, FL 32899
2 EASI (ESC), Applied Sciences and Technology, Kennedy Space Center, FL 32899
3 NASA, Materials Science Division, Kennedy Space Center, FL 32899
6 Sierra-Lobo (ESC), Applied Sciences and Technology, Kennedy Space Center, FL 32899
7 Craig Technologies (ESC), Applied Sciences & Technology, Kennedy Space Center, FL 32899