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This Moon Rover Wheel Could be 3D Printed on the Moon

Weight is everything. Every gram counts on launch day. But, what about reducing weight on launch day by additive manufacturing what you need on the Moon with its resources, such as lunar regolith? The lunar regolith is made up of rock chips, mineral fragments, impact and volcanic glasses, and agglutinates found on the Moon.

Researchers at the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Manufacturing Demonstration Facility, or MDF, at Oak Ridge National Laboratory used a metal AM printer to build the same design for a wheel. The wheel design will be part of the upcoming NASA VIPER (Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover), but the wheel will not be sent to the Moon. Additional testing is planned to validate the design and fabrication method before using this technology for future lunar or Mars rovers or considering it for other space applications, such as large structural components.

Members of the team that printed the rover wheel prototype display the result in front of the laser powder bed printer where it was created in the MDF.

The design for the wheel is quite complex, with an intricate spoke pattern and spoke locking features for the wheel. But the team said that metal AM simplified and reduced the cost of the wheel design and made final assembly easier.

A close look at the wheel’s spoke pattern and spoke locking features. 

According to said Peter Wang, who led MDF demonstration, they used a laser powder bed fusion system with a nickel-based alloy powder to create a wheel about 20 cm (8 in) wide and 50 cm (20 in)  in diameter – much larger than typical parts printed with metal powder bed systems.

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