A San Diego State University engineer will be sending some of his experiments on an upcoming SpaceX launch as part of an effort to someday colonize the moon or Mars, college officials announced Wednesday.
SDSU professor emeritus of mechanical engineering Randall German will be sending his experiments to the International Space Station aboard SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft on a resupply mission scheduled to launch in April, according to the university.
Along with a handful of other scientists, German was part of a NASA teleconference earlier this week. The group was brought together to discuss ways humans could fabricate tools and building supplies from raw minerals available on the moon or Mars. Among its ambitious goals, SpaceX aims to make it possible for mankind to visit — or even colonize — these distant destinations.
German is the principal investigator for the “Gravitational Effects on Distortion in Sintering” experiment. Sintering is a manufacturing process that turns a powdered substance into a solid mass — a process called densification — using heat and pressure. Firing ceramics in a kiln is an example of sintering, and so is the process of turning metalic powders into solid metal tools.
“SDSU’s researchers are among the world leaders in cutting-edge sintering research,” according to the university.
To get a better understanding of how gravitational conditions in space affect the sintering process, German is sending up cartridges filled with various configurations of tungsten alloys that astronauts will place into a furnace aboard the ISS. After these alloys have undergone the sintering process in space, they’ll be sent back to earth on a later mission and returned to German so he can analyze the effects of microgravity, the university explained.
He hopes to one day develop computer models that could ultimately allow human astronauts or robots to fashion their own materials for in-space repairs or to create building materials.
“The idea is to send a vehicle in advance to start harvesting soils, mix the right composition and use heat to build bricks,” German said during the teleconference. “That will eventually [lead to] the fabrication of habitats on the moon or Mars.”
>> Subscribe to Times of San Diego’s free daily email newsletter! Click hereFollow Us: