Space Synthetic Biology Applications: Regolith Biocomposites Technology

View all posters

David Loftus, Henning Roedel, Daniel Fischer, Jon Rask, Michael Lepech, Patricia Aubuchon, Lynn Rothschild

NASA Ames Research Center, United States

Future space exploration missions to the Moon, Mars and other solar system destinations will be severely constrained by weight limitations associated with habitats and other built structures needed to support surface operations. Synthetic biology provides a variety of approaches for the creation of materials that combine readily available lunar or planetary soil with biopolymers to create “biocomposite” materials that can be used for manufacturing and construction purposes. In situ production of these regolith biomposites, using space hardy organisms, will provide the maximum up-mass savings, and will support the fabrication of building components and finished structures for a sustained human presence at these sites. Initial development of these novel materials, involving both NASA Ames and Stanford University, has shown that a variety of bio-polymeric materials are suitable as the matrix for regolith biocomposites. Unlike conventional fiber/resin composites, in which the matrix component predominates, the regolith biocomposites that we have developed have a high proportion of dispersed phase (regolith) material, and a relatively low proportion of matrix, which optimizes the overall economy of producing such materials in space. Initial characterization of regolith biocomposites indicates that the material is very strong in compression (approaching that of concrete), with favorable elastic modulus that can be controlled by the composition of the material. The results of both mechanical testing and ultra-structural analysis will be presented. We believe this new composite material may be one of the most important synthetic biology applications for future space exploration.