Innovation and Sustainability for Earth & Space
PISCES is researching In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) and additive manufacturing technologies that advance space exploration and offer sustainable solutions to improve our lives on Earth. In collaboration with partners in academia, government, and the commercial sector, we lead advanced basalt research to enable construction on the Moon, Mars, and beyond. Our projects funded through state and federal grant programs for aerospace research and development.
Previous Research Projects
Low-Energy Additive Manufacturing
In 2021, we partnered wtih Masten Space Systems on a NASA Phase 1 STTR grant to research a low-energy additive manufacturing technique that could create materials for shelters, roads, and landing pads on the Moon and Mars. Formulating a novel binder-regolith composite, we created bricks that cured with a relatively low level of thermal energy, improving energy efficiency using only raw materials that can be found in-situ on the Moon and Mars.
The second part of the project is being funded by a NASA Phase 2 STTR grant and will develop an extruder for the binder-regolith composite that can withstand harsh environments while automating the manufacturing process.
Planetary LEGO Blocks
In 2017, we received a NASA Small Technology Transfer Research (STTR) Phase 1 grant in partnership with Honeybee Robotics to develop Planetary LEGOs—an interlocking brick made with sintered Hawaiian basalt for additive manufacturing applications. This project created a refined block design and an automated construction process to fit the blocks together. Our technicians discovered the ideal sintering temperature and duration to mold basalt fines into large, durable bricks.
Enlisting help from the creative minds of our interns, the LEGO design was reimagined for greater versatility, including vertical and horizontal construction applications. Our friends at Honeybee Robotics designed the robotic mechanisms needed to automate the entire process—from sintering and molding the blocks, to building structures with them.
Robotically Built ISRU Launch Pad
In late 2015, we completed a robotically-built launch and landing pad made of sintered basalt together with NASA SwampWorks, Honeybee Robotics, ARGO, and the Hawaiʻi County Department of Research and Development. This unique project partnered Hawaiʻi volcanic basalt and our Helelani planetary rover. Helelani was equipped with a leveling blade and robotic arm to grade the launch pad site and emplace basalt pavers. NASA SwampWorks remotely controlled the rover from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, laying 100 pavers that comprised the landing pad surface. In addition to developing ISRU technology, the project served as a practice exercise for NASA’s Resource Prospector mission to the lunar surface.
In Spring 2015, we partnered with the Hawaiʻi County Department of Research and Development, the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, NASA, and Kodiak FRP Rebar to pour a ‘lunar sidewalk’ in downtown Hilo. The sidewalk consisted of experimental concrete slabs made from sintered basalt. Our goal was to test and develop a sustainable construction material that could be used on Earth and other planets. Three section were installed including a fly-ash basalt paver, a baked basalt paver, and a fly-ash binder reinforced with Kodiak FRP basalt rebar.
After a one-year assessment, our test results found the fly-ash basalt paver exceeded the durability of traditional concrete. The baked basalt pavers showed less durability, but were redesigned for our robotically built launch pad project where they outperformed residential concrete.
Through this project, we aimed to reduce the environmental impacts associated with cement including the financial and environmental costs of importing more than 300,000 metric tons of cement to Hawaiʻi each year. Globally, cement production accounts for an estimated 5 to 7% of total CO2 emissions.