The Self Replicating Glass Farm
Mars Coverage 12/5/11
By: Chris Capps
In the future, if we do eventually reach our potential as a space-faring species, one of the major limitations of our abilities will come -as it always has- in how we are able to survive in the environment deep in space. But recent developments in the fields of 3-D printing and green technology have fused in such a way that may have been overlooked by what has overwhelmingly been considered a technologically driven field. In order to escape the harsh conditions of man's humble beginnings, our species has had to consistently use the materials available to push ourselves forward. But what building materials are present on - for example - Mars?
In June a feat of engineering was accomplished and passed through the media with little fanfare with Markus Kayser's solar Sinter project which exclusively used the power of the sun and focused it into a laser in the middle of the desert to melt the sands into glass. The principle, perhaps most famously used in the "Death Ray of Archimedes" focuses sunlight into a condensed laser which travels across the surface of the sand turning it into glass. While the project itself is not quite the final step toward our mastery over matter, Kayser is fusing robotics in such a way that could one day be the answer to several of humanity's concerns in space. After-all there is certainly no shortage of desert on our world and on Mars, and only so much you can do with either. At least that's how it used to be.
While Kayser's project was an art project, it may have inadvertently triggered a guiding principle in technology as well - innovation using the available materials to improve the quality of life for all people. And with only a few alterations, Kayser's solar sinter may be one giant leap for mankind in the goal of proliferating throughout the solar system.
Of course a few changes would need to be made. Kayser's project was more a demonstration of a principle than a worldhouse builder. But if the project could be altered in such a way that the primary components were glass rather than metal in much the same way as Dr. Adrian Bowyer's Reprap project replicates its own components, then the cost (and more importantly the weight) of transporting additional pieces would be significantly improved. One of the most interesting elements of Kayser's project is its utilization of a massive lens to magnify the power of the sun to create the beam necessary. If this lens could be constructed from sand with impurities removed, the potential is quickly self-evident. And quickly thick reinforced glass as a building material in the desert is realized. And it may even translate over to Mars, where a small group of colonists could set up the machines to construct hexagonal glass segments to construct massive domes over what would otherwise be a harsh and unforgiving wasteland.
In the future, technology seems to be curving in the direction of the simple and the innovative in the industrial sector. Self replicating 3-d printers, renewable and ubiquitous resources, and the power of the sun are all playing big parts in emerging technologies. Perhaps in the future we can still realize the dreams we once had of emerging from our own planet wiser and more sustainable than before and rather than threaten the sustainability of our own world, instead breathe new life into a cold and distant Mars.