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Research: Concrete Mixed in Space More Uniform

Thursday, September 12, 2019

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In an experiment to push concrete to another level, scientists recently mixed cement on board the International Space Station, yielding a mixture that is more porous but a more uniform density than what is normally produced on Earth, according to a recently published paper.

The experiment, part of the Microgravity Investigation of Cement Solidification, involved mixing tricalcium silicate, hydrated lime and distilled water in pouches and leaving the mixture to harden for 42 days—a process known as hydration.

NASA

In an experiment to push concrete to another level, scientists recently mixed cement on board the International Space Station, yielding a mixture that is more porous but a more uniform density than what is normally produced on Earth, according to a newly published paper. (PIctured: European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst.)

“Even though concrete has been used for so long on Earth, we still don’t necessarily understand all the aspects of the hydration process," said study author and Pennsylvania State University engineer Aleksandra Radlinska. Now we know there are some differences between Earth- and space-based systems and we can examine those differences to see which ones are beneficial and which ones are detrimental to using this material in space.

“Also, the samples were in sealed pouches, so another question is whether they would have additional complexities in an open space environment.”

Cement Mixed in Space

What makes the concrete mixed in space special is a result of the microgravity environment: In contrast with the concrete that is mixed on Earth, the material mixed in space has a much more uniform density. The comparison mixture on Earth featured the more commonly found layered structure, a byproduct of sedimentation induced by gravity.

According to Astronomy Magazine, such an experiment opens the door to mixing cement in different gravitational environments. The uniform density of the concrete mixed on the ISS should theoretically make the material stronger, noted Radlinska.

The down side to the space mixture is a number of large air pockets—a result of air bubbles not rising to the surface, a contrast with the presence of buoyancy on Earth. Paired with the uniform density, there are “opposite effects occurring concurrently,” according to Radlinska.

“On missions to the Moon and Mars, humans and equipment will need to be protected from extreme temperatures and radiation, and the only way to do that is by building infrastructures on these extraterrestrial environments,” said Radlinska.

“One idea is building with a concrete-like material in space. Concrete is very sturdy and provides better protection than many materials.”

Moving forward, the team will destroy the samples later this year in order to determine if the space cement is stronger than what is mixed on Earth. First, the researchers need to conclude their microstructural analysis. There is also the potential of making concrete with Moon dust sometime in the future.

The paper was published earlier this week in Frontiers in Materials.

   

Tagged categories: Cement; concrete; NA; NASA; North America; Program/Project Management; Research and development

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