Astronauts aboard the international space station made cement in space for the first time – revealing that it has a different structure in low gravity.
Understand how cement forms in space and how conditions on the moon and Mars can pave the way for building new structures on these bodies.
Cement is an important component of concrete, a material that is both sturdy and offers better protection against radiation and extreme temperatures than other materials.
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Astronauts aboard the international space station made cement in space for the first time – revealing that it has a different structure in low gravity
HOW IS CONCRETE MADE?
In its simplest form, concrete is a mixture of pasta and aggregates or stones.
The paste, consisting of cement and water, covers the surface of the fine and coarse aggregates.
Due to a chemical reaction called hydration, the paste hardens and gains strength to form the rocky mass known as concrete.
Within this process, the key to a remarkable property of concrete lies: it is plastic and malleable when re-mixed, strong and durable when hardened.
These qualities explain why one material, concrete, skyscrapers, bridges, sidewalks and highways, can build houses and dams.
Polymer concrete is a type of concrete that uses polymers, usually resins, to replace lime-type cement as a binder.
"During missions to the Moon and Mars, people and equipment must be protected from extreme temperatures and radiation," said lead researcher and civil engineer Aleksandra Radlinska of Pennsylvania State University.
& # 39; The only way to do that is to build infrastructure on these alien environments. & # 39; An idea is to build with a concrete-like material in the room. Concrete is very sturdy and offers better protection than many materials. & # 39;
The most commonly used building material, concrete, is a mix of sand, gravel and rocks that are linked to a paste of cement power and water through a complex chemical process.
Although experts know how concrete behaves and hardens on earth, it is not clear whether the process would work in the same way in space, where gravity differs considerably from that on the earth's surface.
& # 39; How will it harden? What will the microstructure be? Those are the questions we are trying to answer, & Professor Radlinska added.
To investigate this, researchers from the International Space Station began to mix their own batch of cement into micro gravity in orbit.
To do this, they combined the most important mineral component of commercial cement – tricalcium silicate – with water in different mixtures with different types of cement powder, amounts of water and additives.
The cement develops as the cement powder dissolves in the water, forming crystals that gradually interlock.
They compared the resulting materials that they produced with sampled cement made on the earth's surface.
The researchers discovered that cement mixed in space has significant differences in its microstructure compared to what was made on Earth.
The main difference is that the room cement is more porous and contains more open spaces in the cured material.
& # 39; Increased porosity has a direct influence on the strength of the material, but we still have to measure the strength of the space material, & # 39; said Professor Radlinska.
Understand how cement forms in space and how conditions on the moon and Mars can pave the way for building new structures on these bodies
& # 39; Although concrete has been used on earth for so long, we do not always understand all aspects of the hydration process & # 39 ;, said Professor Radlinska.
& # 39; Now we know that there are some differences between systems on Earth and in space and we can investigate those differences to see which are beneficial and which are detrimental to the use of this material in space. & # 39;
More obstacles can be overcome, she added.
& # 39; The samples were in sealed pouches, so another question is whether they would have extra complexity in an open space. & # 39;
To investigate this, researchers from the International Space Station began to mix their own batch of cement in orbit micro gravity
The evidence that concrete can harden in the environment with low gravity in space is an important step toward using the building material to create structures on the moon's surface – perhaps even from materials collected on the moon itself to limit transportation costs.
& # 39; We have confirmed the hypothesis that this is possible & # 39 ;, said Professor Radlinska.
& # 39; Now we can take the following steps to find space-specific and variable gravity levels binders, from zero g to Mars g and in between. & # 39;
Using a centrifuge aboard the space station, researchers can simulate the gravity that would be found on bodies such as the moon and Mars, so that they can also investigate how cement would also form in these environments.
The astronauts are also currently investigating whether they can make cement in the same way that is made from simulated monthly particles.
The full findings of the study were published in the journal Limits in materials.
Cement is an important component of concrete, a material that is both sturdy and offers better protection against radiation and extreme temperatures than other materials
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