Credit: NASA

Hawaiian basalt is being converted into “tiles” to show the way to construct launch pads on the Moon or Mars.

The tiles are being fabricated to handle dynamic rocket blasts from arriving and departing spacecraft.

The work is being championed by the Pacific International Space Center for Exploration (PISCES), a state-funded, Hawaii aerospace agency.

Credit: PISCES Hawaii

Tile testing

PISCES has recently completed a large batch of sintered basalt tiles for testing by NASA’s Swamp Works at Kennedy Space Center. Thirty tiles will be assessed as launch and landing pad material. Testing of the tiles also involves Masten Space Systems in Mojave, California.

Earlier this year, Masten tested a 12” x 12” x 1” tile made by PISCES, subjecting it to a two-second rocket burst fueled by liquid oxygen and liquid methane. The results of the test caught the interest of Swamp Works, who requested the latest batch of tiles. The next test will involve three one-square-meter launch pads (each containing nine tiles).

Credit: PISCES Hawaii

Similarities in composition

“What we have been working on here at PISCES is looking for ways in which we could convert Hawaiian basalt into a material suitable for construction. The interest in this is due to the similarities in composition between the Hawaiian basalt and lunar regolith,” explains Rodrigo Romo, Program Director of PISCES in Hilo, Hawaii.

“If we can find ways in which to utilize basalt here and convert it into a material that is suitable for construction, or construction grade, then we are one step closer in figuring out how to do that on the Moon or Mars as well,” Romo told Inside Outer Space.

Romo adds that the interest in landing pads is because they are amongst the first pieces of infrastructure that will have to be built at any site that is intended to be a recurring landing and liftoff site.

Credit: Masten Space Systems

PISCES progress

PISCES began researching basalt-based launch pad tiles in 2014

Between the fall of 2015 and 2016, PISCES created a series of interlocking basalt tiles for the Additive Construction with Mobile Emplacement (ACME) project, which staged a robotically built, full-scale launch pad. The tiles were designed at NASA and sintered by PISCES using Hawaiʻi basalt. After being placed by a planetary rover with a robotic arm provided by Honeybee Robotics, the tiles underwent a static fire test to assess their durability under the heat and pressure of a rocket blast.

Future work

Future work, Romo says, will include evaluating the sintering process under vacuum and low temperature conditions like those found on the Moon. “We are also exploring the use of binders that would allow us to do additive manufacturing and/or sintering at lower temperatures.”

PISCES will also determine how to continue developing sintered basalt materials for commercial applications on Earth and infrastructure to augment and further space settlement plans.

For more information on PISCES and its pioneering work, go to:

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