back to article Engineers pave the way for building lunar roads with Moon dust

Researchers in Germany's proof-of-concept study shows solar energy could be harnessed to turn lunar dust into paving for landing pads and roads. The engineers conducted experiments using a substitute for regolith and powerful carbon dioxide lasers to melt the compound into a more solid form capable of supporting structures. …

  1. EvilDrSmith Silver badge

    Practicality

    But how do you get the sharks (with the lasers) into space suits?

    1. Jared Vanderbilt

      Re: Practicality

      Coat them with cheese, the place is made of that

  2. trevorde Silver badge

    Inevitably

    Road gets dug up after one month to install gas pipes; again next month for water supply; next month for electricity cables; broadband; sewage; pedestrian crossing; street lights; and upgrade to fibre broadband. After 3 months of use, it develops potholes and needs to be dug up again for resurfacing.

    1. TheMaskedMan Silver badge

      Re: Inevitably

      This is so depressingly accurate - living on a busy main road, I'm rarely more than a few yards from a road cone.

      Hmm, I wonder if the laser technique could be used to melt tarmac and essentially reflow it into a smooth surface without having to dig it all up.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Inevitably

        "Hmm, I wonder if the laser technique could be used to melt tarmac and essentially reflow it into a smooth surface without having to dig it all up."

        No because it's a mix of sand, aggregate and tar (and interestingly a world changing invention from Wales*). It is in fact readily recycled in suitable facilities, but it doesn't flow as such, and the tar both dissolves and wears more readily than the aggregate, so the mix of "used" tarmac would be unreliable if you just warm it up in order to "push it and shape, shove and scrape it"**.

        * Or rather, a Welshman in Derbyshire. That's the problem with Wales, all the people with get up and go have got up and gone, and their modern forbears are busting banning roadbuliding, and introducing the modern equivalent of the Red Flag Act.

        ** You'll need of be of a certain vintage and blessed with a good memory to know where that phrase comes from. And best of all Google isn't going to help you.

        1. Ghostman

          Re: Inevitably

          https://cals.cornell.edu/nysltap-local-roads/what-cold-place-recycling-and-what-are-its-advantages

          This has been used in the US for some time. A lot of roads in the boonies have been repaved this way. Less materials trucked in, less fuel used, less wear and tear on the roads.

          1. jmch Silver badge

            Re: Inevitably

            "A lot of roads in the boonies have been repaved this way"

            For less-used and 'just-good-enough' roads that would be the good approach to take. Similarly on the moon, there isn't going to be THAT much traffic for a while yet. Something equivalent to a gravel path or dirt road as opposed to a field or sandy beach would work fine.

        2. TheMaskedMan Silver badge

          Re: Inevitably

          Ah well, there goes another spur of the moment, world fixing notion :(

          "You'll need of be of a certain vintage and blessed with a good memory to know where that phrase comes from. And best of all Google isn't going to help you."

          I'm old enough to be obsolete, but unlikely ever to be vintage. There again, I find it disturbing that 80s items are now classed as vintage. Go on then, what's the source of this google-defying phrase?

          1. Lurko

            Re: Inevitably

            "I'm old enough to be obsolete, but unlikely ever to be vintage. There again, I find it disturbing that 80s items are now classed as vintage. Go on then, what's the source of this google-defying phrase?"

            The Two Ronnies*. The Zoo Keeper sketch, which was a comedy song, so you'll understand what was being pushed, shaped, shovelled and scraped. As far as I can see the sketch is not to be found online although I'd be delighted if someone can prove me wrong.

            Or was it M&W? In my defence it was about forty years ago, when comedy still existed.

        3. that one in the corner Silver badge

          Re: Inevitably

          > And best of all Google isn't going to help you.

          But, but - that can only mean: it doesn't exist!

          PS

          I did try and you are absolutely correct; but just you wait until Friday, when Google has read your post, and by Sunday you'll be credited by Wikipedia with coining the phrase (one citation).

          PPS

          For a moment, I thought it was from the theme for Yosser and co, but of course not; not even the alternate version by The Pogues.

        4. EvilDrSmith Silver badge
          Headmaster

          Re: Inevitably

          Though generally nowadays, 'Tarmac' should actually be 'Bitmac', since I believe it is made from bitumen, rather than tar.

          I think most tar for road surfaces came from gas works (converting coal into coke + town gas + tar), and we don't do that anymore.

          it's my understanding that bitumen mostly comes from the same fractional distillation of oil process that creates petrol and diesel, etc

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Inevitably

            "Though generally nowadays, 'Tarmac' should actually be 'Bitmac', since I believe it is made from bitumen, rather than tar."

            Tarmac, the company, would probably beg to differ. Tarmac is the word used for that type of road surface in the same way that Hoover is commonly used for any vacuum cleaner :-)

      2. Caver_Dave Silver badge

        Re: Inevitably

        A local undulating and bendy road I travelled last night has very large patches along a two mile length where the surface has melted and the aggregate has sunk. Driving over it in the heat, it actually sounds wet. When I reported it to the Highways Dept. they put sand in their gritter and very sparsely spread sand over the surface - within hours it was gone. Now whenever it rains the slick road surface becomes a skating rink.

        So, from this experience, I can't see melting the surface of a normal Tarmac road will help at all.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Inevitably

          Whilst it can be tarmac that does that it's pretty rare. It more commonly occurs when surface dressing (tar & chippings) wears out. The main purpose of surface dressing is as an intermediate measure to protect the road makeup from excessive water ingress and so prolong the asset life before it has to be dug up and new tarmac laid. Surface dressing uses a soft tar, and the chippings are to maintain grip. Over time the chippings get broken down, flicked out (especially in hot weather) and it goes from being grippy to slippy, in which case they SHOULD either redress the road, or better still put down proper tarmac. The phenomenen also tends to occur most readily on stretches of road that are notably more subject to heating, and that depends on orientation, shade, traffic, effect of barriers to airflow, slope, nearby water features or made up ground, which cam make quite short stretches of road remarkably varied in how hot they get.

          All that depends on where you live. If you live in (say) Herefordshire, or Oxfordshire there's no road maintenance at all, and the county is slowly moving back to rutted cart tracks. In Worcestershire things aren't perfect, but they are doing a much, much better job of highway maintenance.

      3. Fred Daggy Silver badge
        FAIL

        Re: Inevitably

        Right here, they do it all at once. But take a year with the road blocked off. Then *bam*, on day the road is magically sealed again having shown no sign of human or machine intervention in the last 11.5 months.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Inevitably

      "After 3 months of use, it develops potholes and needs to be dug up again for resurfacing."

      Where I live, this is true, but whilst it needs to be dug up for re-surfacing, it never is...

      1. FrogsAndChips Silver badge

        Re: Inevitably

        Where I live, the best section of the road to cycle on is the narrow strip which has recently been dug up for cabling/repairs, because it doesn't have any potholes yet.

  3. CatBoy
    Alien

    Moon Roadway

    Yay... space lasers. There is a <insert deity of choice>

  4. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
    Coat

    And how long before

    speed cameras get installed and the local moon council demand cycle lanes be built (not that a lot use them)

    Spacesut... not coat

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge
      Alien

      Re: And how long before

      Now you've got me thinking... how effective/useful might a bicycle be on the moon? You'd probably want one with those odd-looking fat tyres rather than skinny racing tyres, and you might have to relearn some reflexes, but it strikes me that just having three or four bearings to seal against dust is probably a lot simpler (and cheaper) than some battery-powered buggy.

      Though of course 'people powered' instead of 'technology' might be frowned upon in such a technical environment.

      (Odd, thinking back I can't recall a single SF story that I've read involving transport on the moon either by sub-orbital rocket, powered crawler/buggy, or walking. Odd.)

      1. Richard 12 Silver badge

        Re: And how long before

        A Fall of Moondust.

        I've always wondered whether there's anywhere one could go boating on the Moon

        1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

          Re: And how long before

          Thanks. There should of course have been an 'except' in that last sentence! My attention span is getting... ooh, squirrel!

      2. Zack Mollusc

        Re: And how long before

        Space suits are rather bulky and restrictive of movement, it would be impossible to struggle into your cycling shorts even if they made a size that large.

      3. Benegesserict Cumbersomberbatch Silver badge

        Re: And how long before

        BMXers will make a very functional half-pipe out of some of the smaller craters one day. And so much more time in the air before you land, too

    2. EvilDrSmith Silver badge

      Re: And how long before

      ULEZ?

      Ultra Luna Emissions Zone...

  5. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    Trollface

    "powerful carbon dioxide lasers"

    So that's the solution to global warming !

    Make lasers out of all that CO2 and fry the Moon !

  6. that one in the corner Silver badge

    Sigh, read the article, people!

    It isn't going to be Space Lasers!

    > Taking the process to the Moon might employ a Fresnel lens – a composite, flat or compact lens – of about 2.37 m2 to produce the required effect

    I know, I know, "sharks with frikkin' Fresnel lenses on their heads" doesn't have the same ring to it.

    But look at the other possibilities this raises! Big lasers are tricky - just *think* how big you could make a Fresnel Lens In Spaaace! I'm imagining an extruder being slowly whirled around a central pivot at the end of its Bowden tube, which is extended as the printed lens grows. After a day, the lens creates a bright but harmless spot on the surface, used to align the device in its artificial selenostationary powered orbit[1]. Slowly, the spot becomes brighter until the regolith melts.

    Of course, every 29 (or so) days, the spot suddenly dims and goes out, only to reappear, brighter still[2] 29 days later.

    The Dastardly Plot: the extruder was halted some while back, the lens having reached the optimum size for road building. But, just before The Diplomat's moonbuggy is due to set out on its historic journey at Lunar dawn, unbeknownst to all, The Villain (Colonel Sun?) has not only restarted the extruder but also engaged all five of its backups. During the night[3], they have been working away and have created The Snowflake[4] Lens Of Doom! Can Our Hero save The Diplomat and The Girl from the Lunar Daylight?

    [1] hmm, powered is a problem - someone run the numbers: is a Selenostationary Solar Sailing Orbiter viable? Can it be its own Solar sail?

    [2] assuming the extrusion device isn't itself dependent upon solar power: Solar Powered Selenostationary Solar Sailing Spider.

    [3] ok, that settles it, they are on batteries (or a baby nuke?)

    [4] six extruders all at once, you see; it allows the FX guys the chance to do something other than just make it a larger circle, which won't look any different to the audience.

    1. Caver_Dave Silver badge

      Re: Sigh, read the article, people!

      Blue ^H^H^H^H Black Sky thinking!

  7. Fr. Ted Crilly Silver badge
    Coat

    Hang on

    I thought Reg O'Lith was your Irish Intel Fab correspondent...

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Hang on

      Oooh, well played sir!

  8. MachDiamond Silver badge

    Big lasers spares company

    It all sounds very high tech, but big lasers aren't the most robust machines on any planetary surface. You'd not want to be dragging one around trying to create roads with one. It would take big power leads and a cooling system that won't freeze up and burst pipes frequently.

    I'd think along the lines of interlocking cobbles that can be made in a factory (could use lasers and heat the spaces with waste heat from the cooling system). A suitable road bed could be scraped and the cobbles placed on top to create the road. A solid road surface would suffer from thermal cycling and it will be very difficult to compact the surface uniformly to support a solid road.

    1. that one in the corner Silver badge

      Re: Big lasers spares company

      Ah, great minds think alike:

      > It all sounds very high tech, but big lasers aren't the most robust machines ... You'd not want to be dragging one around

      >> Taking the process to the Moon might employ a Fresnel lens

      > I'd think along the lines of interlocking cobbles

      >> large samples ... with interlocking capabilities were fabricated

      > A solid road surface would suffer...

      >> they found that criss-crossing or overlapping the laser beam path led to cracking

  9. sitta_europea Silver badge

    Before I get excited about this I want to see what some of those 250mm-on-a-side triangles look like after they've been cycled from -200C to +200C a few hundred times.

    1. MachDiamond Silver badge

      "Before I get excited about this I want to see what some of those 250mm-on-a-side triangles look like after they've been cycled from -200C to +200C a few hundred times."

      Not a problem. There are thermal chambers that can do that cycle as long as you keep them supplied with LN2 and power. It's not impossible to get some sacks of JSC-1A (Lunar simulate) to use as feedstock. I have a few hundred grams in a bag someplace. The next time I find it, I need to find a permanent home for it. I got it from NASA to make some microscopic photos for a magazine article I did on the Lunar Regolith Challenge. Don't think of sand, but of pulverized glass.

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