ISRO, IISc researchers develop ‘space bricks’ made from lunar soil for future habits on the moon

Researchers from the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) have developed a sustainable process of making bricks on the moon. The process uses urea, lunar soil, bacteria and guar beans in the making of these bricks, which could be useful in building self-sustaining structures on the moon someday.

“The process involves extracting lunar soil and using bacteria and guar beans to harden it (soil) into brick-like structures for habitation on the moon in the future,” a researcher of the city-based science institute told , this bacterium uses urea and calcium to form these crystals as by products of the pathway.

“Living organisms have been involved in such mineral precipitation since the dawn of the Cambrian period, and modern science has now found a use for them,” says Kumar.

The bacteria were mixed into the lunar soil and then urea and calcium was added to it along with the guar gum. After a couple of days, the bricks formed were “found to possess significant strength and machinability.”

The researchers were able to mould the material into any shape using a simple lathe machine. This makes the recipe flexible to use in a variety of shapes by casting, said Koushik Viswanathan, Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, IISc in a statement.

“This capability could also be exploited to make intricate interlocking structures for construction on the moon, without the need for additional fastening mechanisms,” he added.

The findings of this study have been published in the journal Ceramics International.

In another study headed by Rashmi Dikshit, a DBT-BioCARe Fellow at IISc, the team of researchers looked at another bacterium option – Bacillus velezensis instead of the Sporosarcina pasteurii. Since Sporosarcina pasteurii is expensive – a vial of this bacterium can cost Rs. 50,000 – the researchers looked at Bacillus velezensis as it is locally available and cheapers but has similar properties. The findings from this study have been published in the journal PLOS One.

“We have quite a distance to go before we look at extra-terrestrial habitats. Our next step is to make larger bricks with a more automated and parallel production process,” says Kumar.

Meanwhile, the researchers are looking to improve the strength of these bricks and test them under varied loading conditions like impacts and possibly moonquakes.

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