June 05, 2008

Carbon nanotubes + epoxy + lunar dust = lunar concrete

To make a 2.4-metre mirror like Hubble's, Chen estimates the recipe would call for about 600 kilograms (1300 pounds) of Moon dust, 60 kg (130 pounds) of epoxy, 6 kg (13 pounds) of carbon nanotubes and less than a gram of aluminium.

So bring 66kg of material to make something about ten times as heavy. Besides making giant telescopes, the lunar concrete can be used to form other structures on the moon. A 50 meter telescope would still need many tons of material but ten times less than before. Telescopes could combine and image continents on earthlike worlds in other solar systems.

Peter Chen of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, US, has devised a simple method to create a concrete-like substance using a mixture of carbon nanotubes, epoxy and a crushed rock material that NASA uses as a stand-in for Moon dust.

Using the mixture, they built a 30-centimetre disc. Then they added more liquid epoxy to its surface and spun it, coating it with aluminium in a vacuum.

They believe the process could be scaled up to produce 20- to 50-metre-wide telescopes on the Moon. Universe Today discusses the possibilities:

With a stable platform, and no atmosphere to absorb or blur starlight, the monster scope could record the spectra of extra solar terrestrial planets and detect atmospheric biomarkers such as ozone and methane. Two or more such telescopes spanning the surface of the Moon can work together to take direct images of Earth-like planets around nearby stars and look for brightness variations that come from oceans and continents.

The team has yet to determine the type of devices that might be used to spin the mirrors, and the telescopes would need detectors, actuators, steel support structures and other components not made from Moon dust.

Carbon nanotube prices are falling because of new larger scale factories and new cheaper processes

Multi-wall carbon Nanotube production has had dramatic price decreases (Arkema, Bayer Material Sciences, Showa Denko), down to $150/kg for semi-industrial applications [Feb 2008]. The run for industrial CNT production plants has started in order to achieve a sustainable business with the commercialization of these high-tech materials with a mid-term price target of $45/kg.

This on-site composite material to build habitats for the astronauts, and mirrors to collect sunlight for solar-power.

Website of the American Astronomical Society who hosted the conference where this work was presented

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