Chitin on Mars

Habitats on mars could be build from Chitin. A study by the Singapore University of Technology found that the polymer is easily transportable and useful to build tools and habitats. Chitin found in the exoskeletons of insects and crustaceans -like crabs- would both be light and strong enough to be up for the task.

“The technology was originally developed to create circular ecosystems in urban environments,” said co-author Javier Fernandez. “But due to its efficiency, it is also the most efficient and scalable method to produce materials in a closed artificial ecosystem in the extremely scarce environment of a lifeless planet or satellite.”

NASA estimates that the price of bringing one pound of material to Mars would at least be $10 000. The need for lightweight material to build martian habitats and tools is a must. Though not only chitin is considered a viable material. Regiolite on Mars has been proven an effective material to 3D print Martian habitats. Regolith is abundant on Mars. Thus it will likely be a prime material to build all kinds of stuff on and under the martian surface.

Credit: AI Spacefactory

It is crucial for any Mars mission to use as much of the local planetary resources as possible. The researchers used chitosan, which they extracted from shrimp and dissolved it in acidic acid. Then they combined it with a martian soil simulant to create their building material. 

“Nature presents successful strategies of life adapting to harsh environments,” the authors wrote. “In biological organisms, rigid structures are formed by integrating inorganic filler proceed from the environment at a low energy cost (e.g., calcium carbonate) and incorporated into an organic matrix (e.g., chitin) produced at a relatively high metabolic cost.”

Credit: Javier Fernandez

The team then went on to use hte material to build several shapes such as cubes and cilinders. Finally they 3d printed a martian habitat in just under two hours.  

“Bioinspired manufacturing and sustainable materials are not a substituting technology for synthetic polymers, but an enabling technology defining a new paradigm in manufacturing, and allowing to do things that are unachievable by the synthetic counterparts,” said Fernandez. “We have demonstrated that they are key not only for our sustainability on Earth but also for one of the next biggest achievements of humanity: our transformation into an interplanetary species.”

Credit: Javier Fernandez

The authors of the study see the produced chitin as a natural byproduct of the diet of the astronauts. Insects are high in protein and are low in maintenance. This makes them an excellent food source. The byproduct, chitin, has no nutritional value and would be perfect for building. A sustainable and zero-waste product and technology like this brings us one step further to the colonization of the red planet. 

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