The construction of human habitats with ISRU techniques is one of the key technologies for enabling future manned missions to Mars. For this reason, the PRIMA mission is working on the development of building blocks that can be assembled together in order to form a habitat structure that provides shelter and radiation shielding for the astronauts. The shape of the blocks is optimized for withstanding the structural loads while allowing an easiness of construction with minimal energy requirements. The blocks are to be made using 3D printed plastic thin-walled structures, filled with analog Martian soil extracted in situ at MDRS. The primary structure of the blocks consists of thin walls that are 3D printed using plastics such as ABS and/or PMMA. In turn, the primary structure has an outer shell that prevents the regolith from escaping, and an internal structure with honeycomb shape that reinforces the system.
In addition, this study aims to research the radiation shielding properties of the building blocks. However, these tests will be carried out after MDRS once the mission has ended in the Weizmann Institute Laboratories, using samples developed during the mission. In addition, further testing of the mechanical properties of the blocks will be carried out after the mission.
Furthermore, the crew aims to iterate and modify the design while at MDRS in order to improve the building blocks. The process of building the blocks’ primary structure using 3D printers, filling it with in situ MDRS regolith, and assembling blocks together to form a bigger structure will be a very useful testbed to assess the practicality of sending robotic missions or human-assisted missions to build human habitats on Mars.
Finally, this development is divided into two complementary 3D printing sub-projects: the use of a plastic 3D printer to manufacture thin-walled plastic building bricks to be filled with in situ regolith at MDRS; and research and development of the technologies for building a laboratory laser sintering 3D printer capable of sintering in situ soil from MDRS. Due to the technical complexity of the second sub-project, which will be done in a laboratory environment and will not be transported to MDRS, we plan to work in parallel on the development of this laser sintering 3D printer and test it with soil samples from MDRS after our expedition.