Martian Concrete, Rich In Sulphur, Made After Arrival

Once on the Red Planet, human explorers will need a base of operations. Rather than bring building materials all the way from Earth, it makes much more sense to make them on site.


(Martian Concrete)
a, Three point bending setup;
b, fracture surface;
c, typical cracks after bending test.

A significant step in space exploration during the 21st century will be human settlement on Mars. Instead of transporting all the construction materials from Earth to the red planet with incredibly high cost, using Martian soil to construct a site on Mars is a superior choice.

Knowing that Mars has long been considered a "sulfur-rich planet", a new construction material composed of simulated Martian soil and molten sulfur is developed. In addition to the raw material availability for producing sulfur concrete, while its strength reaches similar levels to conventional cementitious concrete, fast curing, low temperature sustainability, acid and salt environment resistance, 100% recyclability are appealing superior characteristics of the developed Martian Concrete.

In this study, different percentages of sulfur are investigated to obtain the optimal mixing proportions. Three point bending, unconfined compression and splitting tests were conducted to determine strength development, strength variability, and failure mechanisms. The test results are compared with sulfur concrete utilizing regular sand. It is observed that the particle size distribution plays a significant role in the mixture's final strength.

Furthermore, since Martian soil is metal rich, sulfates and, potentially, polysulfates are also formed during high temperature mixing, which contribute to the high strength. The optimal mix developed as Martian Concrete has an unconfined compressive strength of above 50 MPa, which corresponds to a roughly 150 MPa concrete on Mars due to the difference in gravity between Mars and Earth.

The formulated Martian Concrete is then simulated by the Lattice Discrete Particle Model (LDPM), which exhibits excellent ability in modeling the material response under various loading conditions.

Science fiction readers are already familiar with the idea of making what you need once you arrive on a new planet. In his 1951 novel The Moon is Hell, John W. Campbell wrote about marooned members of the second lunar expedition surviving by manufacturing solar cells using lunar materials.

"We have been mining steadily, and making some photocells... Another bank of photocells built, and set up. Our clockwork that keeps the cells facing the sun is overloaded. Rice to the rescue - with an electric torque amplifier...

More recently, William Gibson wrote about lunar concrete for use, not on the Moon itself, but in Earth orbit, in his 1988 novel Mona Lisa Overdrive:

Tessier-Ashpool ascended to high orbit's archipelago... And here they began to build... Ashpool borrowed heavily and the wall of lunar concrete that would be Freeside grew and curved, enclosing its creators.

From A Novel Material for In Situ Construction on Mars: Experiments and Numerical Simulations via the always excellent BLDGBLOG (haven't seen you in a while!).

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