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How a meteorite dust 3D printed LEGO brick will help explore the moon

ESA scientists used 4.5 billion year old space dust to 3D print bricks that will help design astronaut shelters on the moon

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Scientists at the European Space Agency (ESA) have turned to their love of LEGO brick building when designing launch pads and shelters for astronauts visiting the moon, as part of the Artemis program. To test whether space materials could be used to create structures, the team 3D printed similar to LEGO bricks with meteorite dust to see if could still be used as a building block on small-scale versions of structures.

ESA and NASA have been employing various 3D printing technologies to explore the ability to produce parts using materials found on location on the Moon or Mars. In the past stereolithography has been used for small parts, along with large format construction 3D printing for actual buildings, but never before to create bricks. While it is always fascinating to see such unique uses of 3D printing, the ability to produce a brick using a mixture of dust in a polymer matrix is not a major feat in and of itself, however, it is safe to assume that the tests that will be done on the brick will be able to tell us a lot more about its stability and durability in the extreme conditions of space.

The resulting ESA Space Bricks will now go on display in select LEGO Stores in the USA, Canada, UK, Germany, France, Denmark, Spain and Australia plus the LEGO House, in Billund, Denmark, to inspire the builders of tomorrow of how LEGO brick building can help solve out of this world problems.

Daniel Meehan, Creative Lead at The LEGO Group noted the real-world impact LEGO bricks can have outside of creative play and commented, “We recently found out that space remains an area of huge curiosity with 87% of Gen Alpha kids interested in discovering new planets, stars, and galaxies. With the ESA team using the LEGO System-in-Play to advance space travel, it shows kids the sky really is the limit when it comes to LEGO brick building and we hope it encourages children to have a go at building their own space shelters!”

How ESA scientists 3D printed a meteorite dust LEGO brick that will help to design astronaut shelters on the moon

The real structures will be built on the moon, using materials found there, but they first needed to understand if a space material could even be made into building blocks and they needed to do this on a small scale. The space material on the moon is regolith, but there is only a very small sample available on Earth, collected from the Apollo mission.

So, the team turned to another, very similar space material – meteorites, which they ground up into dust and mixed with a small amount of polylactide and regolith simulant and used this to 3D print bricks similar to LEGO bricks– making the ESA Space Bricks. The meteorite they used is approximately 4.5 billion years old. It was originally discovered in North-West Africa in 2000 and is technically classed as a L3-6. It is a brecciated stone that has many different elements incorporated within it, such as large metal grains, inclusions, chondrules and other stone meteorite elements.

Talking about the project, ESA Science Officer, Aidan Cowley said, “Our teams are working towards the future of space travel and take inspiration from not just what’s above us, but also what we can find on Earth. No-one has ever built a structure on the moon, so we have to work out not only how we build them but what we build them out of as we can’t take any materials with us. My team and I team love creative construction and had the idea to explore whether space dust could be formed into a brick similar to a LEGO brick so we could test different building techniques. The result is amazing and whilst the bricks may look a little rougher than usual, importantly the clutch power still works, enabling us to play and test our designs.

Following the important part in developing potential future infrastructure on the Moon, 15 ESA Space Bricks will go on display in select LEGO Stores globally to help encourage kids to find out more about space travel and be inspired to build their very own moon shelters. The ESA Space Bricks will be on display in select LEGO Stores in the USA, Canada, UK, Germany, France, Denmark, Spain and Australia plus the LEGO House, in Billund, Denmark from 24th June to 20th September.

Locations for the ESA Space Bricks displays:

USA:
The LEGO Store, Mall of America, Bloomington, Minnesota
The LEGO Store, Disney Springs, Florida
The LEGO Store, Water Tower Place, Chicago
The LEGO Store, Disneyland Resort, California
The LEGO Store, 5th Avenue, New York

Canada:
The LEGO Store, West Edmonton

UK:
The LEGO Store, Leicester Square, London

Germany:
The LEGO Store, München Zentrum
The LEGO Store, Cologne

Denmark:
The LEGO Store, Copenhagen
LEGO House, Billund

Spain:
The LEGO Store, Barcelona

France:
The LEGO Store, Paris

Netherlands:
The LEGO Store, Amsterdam

Australia:
The LEGO Store, Pitt Street Mall, Sydney

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1,346 polymer and metal AM companies and 143 end-users. Consumer products AM generated $2.6 billion in 2023. Segment expected to grow to $28 billion by 2033 at 26.8% CAGR. This new market study fro...

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