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The everyday tech that could take us to the Moon

In the Engineering Edge Podcast "The everyday tech that could take us to the Moon" I spoke with Matt Napoli from Made In Space. He told me about plans to 3D print using moon dust, and also that a 3D Printed Wrench was the first item to be designed specifically for a requirement on the International Space Station and then printed up there.

So I wanted to print my own wrench.

The file is available at:

Here's my print in progress:

Printing of the wrench with a 3D printer

Image shows the internal print of the wrench

close-up of the internal print of the wrench head

I really love the mechanism. And it's all printed in one go. No assembly required.

Finished 3D printed wrench along side internal construction

One thing I noted about the wrench is it only works one way - so I thought about how I'd design it to both do-up and undo things. But others have beaten me to the idea - such as NattyWard789987's Double-Ended Wrench:

example of double ended 3D printed wrench

With the wrench printed, I started to think about 3D printing with moon dust. As I didn't have any (sadly) I decided to try with concrete ...

bag of cement used instead of moon dust for 3D printing

Bucket of concrete and bag for 3D printing

The "nozzle" was a piped icing bag - I tried to adjust the nozzle ...

Lucy modified nozzle to improve printing

But ended up just removing it ...

wet concrete loaded into the bag

Wet concrete is squidgy, so it all went into the bag OK.

Lucy's first attempt at printing with cement

It's just not very easy to squeeze out of the bag. I wondered if agitation may be the answer - so I "borrowed" an electric toothbrush ...

A toothbrush used as an agitator to improve flow from the bag

And almost immediately that just resulted in a broken toothbrush. It's not designed to work with so much grit around!

Lucy's final attempt at printing with cement, resulted in broken toothbrush

I think we decided in the end, that as well cement being thixotropic, the friction involved between all the sand and grit and cement, just meant that this really wasn't a very good idea.

I hope they have better success on the Moon!

The Engineering Edge Podcast - Series 2 Episode 1

I am an inventor, engineer, writer and presenter. Other stuff: Royal Academy of Engineering Visiting Professor of Engineering: Creativity and Communication at Brunel University London; Fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and have a PhD in bubbles; Judge on BBC Robot Wars.


[Comment was deleted]

February 2, 2021 11:54

simplify the solution, make the head of the wrench double ended. To reverse it simply remove the socket, put it on the back side and it will turn the other direction. I would also create a pivoting point in the handel.

0 Votes

February 9, 2021 12:18

@Soulcrusher Great idea! As always, there are so many ways to solve this problem. The best tool always being the one you have in your hand!

February 1, 2021 13:46

  • Moderated

Two comments. I don't think that a double-ended ratchet drive is a solution. Better would be a switchable latch on a single drive. This could be a swing over latch as used on a trailer winch or duplicating the latch on the one-directional driver with a cam which holds off one latch at a time or leaves both latches on.

I have seen vibration plates used to help concrete through a long pipe. These are attached to the formwork but this requires far stronger formwork because the full hydraulic force of the concrete is applied as it all liquefies, the density of concrete is 2.5, however, vibrating the pipe would be reasonable. Vibration would be by motor-driven eccentrics. Electricity is from solar panels air is not replaceable.

The biggest problem of concrete in space would be that the water would instantly evaporate desiccating the cement. I would suggest resin as a more likely bonding material, dust can be used to fill it out to three or four times the volume. Both materials would lack tensile strength which requires some sort of fibre or metal reinforcement, carbon would be my preference on the basis of strength/weight.

Your 3D printers should be able to handle fibre or strand reinforcement and the manufacture of resin and dust mixes.

0 Votes

February 9, 2021 12:17

@fdonmedway Could the switch version be made without having to assemble the parts? But yes, another great idea.

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