This Is How Roads Could Be Built on the Moon

Researchers suggest manipulating solar rays to melt moon dust into smooth 'tiles'
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 14, 2023 5:10 PM CDT
This Is How Roads Could Be Built on the Moon
The September full moon, known as the Harvest Moon, rises over the capital Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, Sept. 29, 2023.   (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Building roads on the moon will not be like building roads on Earth. Since the moon has no atmosphere and lower gravity compared to our planet, dust is a big problem. It gets everywhere, "erodes space suits, clogs machinery, interferes with scientific instruments and makes moving around difficult," reports the Guardian. NASA and other space agencies dreaming of a lunar base have been ruminating on how to address the problem, which would only be exacerbated by astronauts riding around on lunar rovers. Now, Jens Günster of Berlin's Federal Institute of Materials Research and Testing thinks he has a solution: melt the moon dust into something akin to a paved surface.

It's too expensive to transport materials to the moon, so "you need to use what's there and that's simply loose dust," Günster tells the Guardian. In a study published Thursday in Scientific Reports, he and colleagues suggest using a lens to melt moon dust into "tiles" that can be interlocked to form hard, smooth surfaces. The team experimented with melting EAC-1A, a fine-grain material developed by the European Space Agency as a replacement for lunar soil, using a carbon dioxide laser beam to simulate focused solar radiation, per the Guardian. At 1,200 degrees Celsius, "the dust compacted and turned into a black, glassy structure capable of supporting structures," per E+T Magazine. The researchers ultimately chose a design of triangular "tiles," about 10 inches across.

It took about an hour to create a single shape, meaning it would take about 100 days to create a landing area of 32 feet square, per the Guardian. "It sounds like forever," but it's hardly inconceivable, says Günster, noting the same approach could be done on the moon using a 25-square-feet rollable lens of polymer foil to concentrate the sun's rays. He adds a vibrating feature is probably a good idea because, well, dust. "When you accumulate dust on the lens it will sooner or later not function anymore," he tells the Guardian. The process of creating the tiles still needs to be tested in low gravity, says study co-author Juan-Carlos Ginés-Palomares, an engineer at Berlin's Technical University, who also suggests testing the tiles' performance "under a rocket thrust," per Nature. (More moon stories.)

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