Astronomers whip up recipe for moon concrete

By Xinhua,

Beijing : A team of astronomers have come up with an idea for a kind of lunar concrete that could be used to build structures on the moon such as giant telescopes, solar power arrays and even homes.

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“We could make huge telescopes on the moon relatively easily, and avoid the large expense of transporting a large mirror from Earth,” said Peter Chen of NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. “Since most of the materials are already there in the form of dust, you don’t have to bring very much stuff with you, and that saves a ton of money.”

One limiting factor for making the concrete could be the amount of material a rocket can reasonably haul up to the moon. But if the bulk of the material was already on the moon, that would lighten the Earth-to-moon payload. And that is the case, Chen says.

“We could build structures on the moon, perhaps habitats for astronauts on the moon, maybe igloos,” Chen said during a press briefing here today at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS).

To arrive at the concrete recipe, Chen and his Goddard colleagues including Douglas Rabin, mixed small amounts of carbon nanotubes and epoxies (glue-like materials) with simulated lunar dust, or crushed rock that has the same composition and grain size as dust on the moon.

After several iterations, one of which yielded what Chen described as “gooey and smelly,” the team created a strong material with the consistency of concrete. Next, they coated the material with epoxy and spun the wet lunar concrete to form a 12-inch-wide (30-centimeter-wide) bowl-like structure shaped like a telescope mirror.

“After that, all we needed to do was coat the mirror blank with a small amount of aluminum, and voilà, we had a highly reflective telescope mirror,” Rabin said. “Our method could be scaled-up on the moon, using the ubiquitous lunar dust.”

Chen and Rabin envision creating a telescope mirror spanning 164 feet (50 meters) in diameter on the moon. Such an observatory would dwarf the largest optical telescope in the world — the 34-foot (10.4-meter) Gran Telescopio Canarias, also called the Great Telescope Canary Islands.