Sustained space exploration will require infrastructure that doesn't currently exist: buildings, housing, rocket landing pads.
So, where do you turn for construction materials when they are too big to fit in your carry-on and there's no Home Depot in outer space?
"If we're going to live and work on another planet like Mars or the moon, we need to make concrete. But we can't take bags of concrete with us—we need to use local resources," said Norman Wagner, Unidel Robert L. Pigford Chair of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Delaware.
Researchers are exploring ways to use clay-like topsoil materials from the moon or Mars as the basis for extraterrestrial cement. To succeed will require a binder to glue the extraterrestrial starting materials together through chemistry. One requirement for this out-of-this-world construction material is that it must be durable enough for the vertical launch pads needed to protect man-made rockets from swirling rocks, dust and other debris during liftoff or landing. Most conventional construction materials, such as ordinary cement, are not suitable under space conditions.
UD's Wagner and colleagues are working on this problem and successfully converted simulated lunar and Martian soils into geopolymer cement, which is considered a good substitute for conventional cement. The research team also created a framework to compare different types of geopolymer cements and their characteristics and reported the results in Advances in Space Research. The work was highlighted recently in Advances in Engineering.
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