Above: Mauna Loa’s barren and rugged volcanic slopes (left) bear a striking resemblance to the rocky, rust-colored surface of Mars (right). But wait, there’s more…

You’ve probably heard us talk a lot about Hawaii as a valuable testing ground for space exploration technologies—in part due to its expansive, isolated basaltic lava fields. But besides offering a similar looking environment (which supports valuable studies like those conducted at HI-SEAS), Hawaii’s landscapes offer more than meets the eye.

Hawaii Island, commonly known as the Big Island, is known for its diverse climates and landscapes—many of them characterized by rugged, basaltic lava fields. PISCES’ Materials Science team has been collecting and analyzing samples of volcanic basalt from various locations on the island to determine which work best for sintering. Recently, PISCES Geologist Kyla Defore began analyzing these samples and comparing them with data on Martian rock gathered by NASA—specifically, Martian meteorites. The results were amazingly similar.

“At first I was skeptical, but the data proved sound and I was amazed. There are tiny variances between Hawaii and Mars, but they are extremely similar.”

For good measure, Kyla also compared the Hawaii basalt samples with MGS-1 Mars regolith simulant and data gathered by NASA’s Pathfinder rover on Martian regolith. In all cases, Hawaii’s lava rock appeared nearly identical in composition to Martian rock.

Gathering the data was more than a stone’s throw. Over the last 18 months, Kyla and student interns have been gathering samples and breaking them down into fine pellets for analysis.

Using an Energy Dispersive X-Ray Fluorescence (EDXRF) spectrometer, Kyla parsed the elemental compositions of these samples and creating the graph shown below.

PISCES’ larger goal in this research is to determine the ideal basalt rock for sintering that will consistently create a stable product.  “We want to find the perfect temperature and the perfect rock material,” Kyla said.

The next step in the project will run the Hawaii samples through an X-ray Diffraction machine to determine their exact crystal and mineral content. The resulting data set will be combined with the original data set, providing  a comprehensive overview of Hawaii basalts. The overview will ultimately reveal which properties reveal which properties yield the best sintering product.

“Basically, it’s like finding the ideal recipe for baking a cake. And we’re in the process of writing the book,” Kyla said.

PISCES intends to present the results of these studies in formal scientific papers at several aerospace conferences next year. The presentations could forge new partnerships to further basalt sintering research and In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) technology.

The composition of a Martian meteorite (red) is shown in comparison to Hawaiian basalt samples sourced from eight locations on Hawaii Island. The overlapping lines represent the similarity of their compositions. Note: The value of FeO for the Martian meteorite was not available.

The composition of a Martian meteorite (red) is shown in comparison to Hawaiian basalt samples sourced from eight locations on Hawaii Island. The overlapping lines represent the similarity of their compositions. Note: The value of FeO for the Martian meteorite was not available.