PISCES team members working at the Lava Lab pour molten basalt into casting molds to produce early prototypes of trusses and joints for ISRU lunar construction.

In a collaborative effort to advance lunar construction technologies, PISCES has partnered with Cislune on a NASA-funded Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase 1 project to research cast basalt as an In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) technology for lunar construction. Called CRUST (Cast Regolith Utilized for Structural Trusses), the six-month project will utilize Hawaiian basalt as a lunar regolith simulant to create trusses and brackets for building lunar infrastructure while reducing energy and material costs.

PISCES research director Christian Andersen and geology intern Ski Mecham suited up for handling molten rock.

(L–R) PISCES research director Christian Andersen and geology intern Ski Mecham suited up for handling molten rock.

PISCES Research Director Christian Andersen and University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo geology student Ski Mecham have already begun sand-casting molten basalt around 3D printed dummy models. At the heart of the project lies the utilization of Hawaiian basalt, which is melted into molten rock at temperatures reaching 2,300°F and then cast into sand molds, laying the foundation for structural elements crucial for ISRU construction on the Moon. The casts can be buried directly in lunar surface regolith for extended cooling, mitigating vitrification and thermal shock.

Regolith casting has several advantages over traditional methods. Unlike energy-intensive processes like smelting and casting aluminum or composite ISRU structures, it employs only one imported material—sodium silicate. This approach demonstrates superior stress-handling capabilities, making the cast regolith less susceptible to breakage and deformation.

Ultimately, PISCES and Cislune aim to provide quantifiable data on the efficacy of cast regolith for truss joints. The initial prototype materials will undergo structural testing to analyze their compressive, flexural, and tensile strength. Per the results, the joint designs with then be optimized using Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software. The final product will be designed to be compatible with robotic assembly systems, meeting stringent requirements outlined by NASA. The technology holds promise for a range of applications (such as brackets, tools, enclosures, tiles, and pavers) and will pave the way for a flexible, modifiable, and versatile construction approach to ISRU.