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Development of Aerogel Molds for Metal Casting Using Lunar and Martian RegolithIn the last few years NASA has set new priorities for research and development of technologies necessary to enable long-term presence on the Moon and Mars. Among these key technologies is what is known as in situ resource utilization, which defines all conceivable usage of mineral, liquid, gaseous, or biological resources on a visited planet. In response to this challenge, we have been focusing on developing and demonstrating the manufacturing of a specific product using Lunar and Martian soil simulants (i.e., a mold for the casting of metal and alloy parts) which will be an indispensable tool for the survival of outposts on the Moon and Mars. In addition, our purpose is to demonstrate the feasibility of using mesoporous materials such as aerogels to serve as efficient casting molds for high quality components in propulsion and other aerospace applications. The first part of the project consists of producing aerogels from the in situ resources available in Martian and Lunar soil. The approach we are investigating is to use chemical processes to solubilize silicates using organic reagents at low temperatures and then use these as precursors in the formation of aerogels for the fabrication of metal casting molds. One set of experiments consists of dissolving silica sources in basic ethylene glycol solution to form silicon glycolates. When ground silica aerogel was used as source material, a clear solution of silicon glycolate was obtained and reacted to form a gel thus proving the feasibility of this approach. The application of this process to Lunar and Martian simulants did not result in the formation of a gel; further study is in progress. In the second method acidified alcohol is reacted with the simulants to form silicate esters. Preliminary results indicate the presence of silicon alkoxide in the product distillation. However, no gel has been obtained so further characterization is ongoing. In the second part of the project, the focus has been on developing a series of aerogel plates suitable for thin plate metal casting and ingot metal castings. The influence of aerogels on thin wall metal castings was studied by placing aerogel plates into the cavities of thin sections of resin bonded sand molds. An 1 based commercial alloy ( 356) containing 7 percent Si was poured into these molds. Post-solidification studies provide evidence that aerogel inserts significantly reduce the cooling rate during solidification. The advantage of a lower rate using aerogel inserts was reflected in the reduction of casting defects such as shrinkage porosity. Quantitative results support the hypothesis that using aerogels as a mold material can offer definite advantages when used as casting thin sections. As a separate effort, silica aerogel with cylindrical cavities have been prepared and will be evaluated for casting commercial alloys.
Document ID
Document Type
Date Acquired
August 21, 2013
Publication Date
December 1, 2003
Publication Information
Publication: Biological and Physical Space Research Laboratory 2002 Science Review
Subject Category
Lunar and Planetary Science and Exploration
Distribution Limits
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.

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IDRelationTitle20040073490Analytic PrimaryBiological and Physical Space Research Laboratory 2002 Science Review