NanoRacks-Irish Centre for Composites Research-St. Nessan’s Community College: Effects of microgravity on the solidification of reinforced concrete (NanoRacks-IComp-Space Cowboy Builders) - 08.30.17

Overview | Description | Applications | Operations | Results | Publications | Imagery

ISS Science for Everyone

Science Objectives for Everyone
Portland cement is one of the most common building materials on Earth, forming the basis of concrete, mortar, and other components of buildings, roads and bridges. NanoRacks-Irish Centre for Composites Research-St. Nessan’s Community College: Effects of microgravity on the solidification of reinforced concrete (NanoRacks-IComp-Space Cowboy Builders) studies how microgravity affects the solidification of reinforced cement. Results improve understanding of how cement works in space, and how it might be used in construction projects on the moon, asteroids or other locations.
Science Results for Everyone
Information Pending

The following content was provided by Norah Patten, Ph.D., and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.
Experiment Details

OpNom: NanoRacks Module-9 Ext S/N 1014

Principal Investigator(s)
St. Nessan's Community College , St. Nessan's Community College, Limerick, Ireland

Co-Investigator(s)/Collaborator(s)
Norah Patten, Ph.D., University of Limerick, Limerick, Ireland
Gavin Doyle, St. Nessan's Community College, Limerick, Ireland
Michael D. Johnson, NanoRacks LLC, Webster, TX, United States

Developer(s)
Irish Centre for Composites Research (IComp), University of Limerick, Limerick, Ireland
NanoRacks, LLC, Webster, TX, United States

Sponsoring Space Agency
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Sponsoring Organization
National Laboratory Education (NLE)

Research Benefits
Space Exploration

ISS Expedition Duration
March 2014 - March 2015

Expeditions Assigned
39/40,41/42

Previous Missions
Information Pending

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Experiment Description

Research Overview

  • Research is needed to understand how reinforced concrete forms in microgravity. By adding the basalt fiber reinforcement in NanoRacks-Irish Centre for Composites Research-St. Nessan’s Community College: Effects of microgravity on the solidification of reinforced concrete (NanoRacks-IComp-Space Cowboy Builders) more is learned about the effect microgravity has on the binding of the concrete to the fiber. It aids future exploration and helps understand if this type of building process is possible in space.
  • NanoRacks-IComp-Space Cowboy Builders provides a greater understanding about this type of process and material – not only to build settlements in space, but also to investigate the effects that microgravity has on the microstructures by comparing the ground controlled experiment and the space experiment. This further aids in understanding the solidification process.

Description
On September 30th, 1994, the space shuttle Endeavour launched from the Kennedy Space Center carrying the world’s first Portland cement-based experiment.  This microgravity mortar experiment attempted to find out more about concrete as a building material in space. And the outcome was very successful, producing a solid homogeneous sample, which could be used for construction. The NanoRacks-Irish Centre for Composites Research-St. Nessan’s Community College: Effects of microgravity on the solidification of reinforced concrete (NanoRacks-IComp-Space Cowboy Builders) experiment proposes to build on the data collected from the Portland cement experiment in 1994 and it includes a built-in reinforcing material; basalt fibers. The basalt fibers are embedded in a cementitious matrix. On earth, and in this form, both fibers and matrix retain their physical and chemical identities, while offering a synergism: a combination of properties that cannot be achieved with either of the components acting alone. But how does it perform in microgravity? That is the fundamental question of the NanoRacks-IComp-Space Cowboy Builders experiment. NanoRacks-IComp-Space Cowboy Builders compares the space experiment to a ground control experiment and investigates the differences in the microstucture. NanoRacks-IComp-Space Cowboy Builders are tightly monitoring the conditions of the ground control to ensure that comparisons can be made which include external factors such as temperature.

Two of the NanoRacks MixStix are filled at the same time using the same materials, one to be sent to the ISS and the other used as the ground control, to allow for direct comparison post space flight. Each MixStix was divided into three compartments separated by clamps to be released as soon as possible once the MixStix reaches the ISS. The MixStix contains Irish Cement, basalt fiber, sand and gravel mix, and water. The ground control experiment is activated at approximately the same time as the space experiment and is monitored on a regular basis.

NanoRacks-IComp-Space Cowboy Builders have the expertise and facilities at the Irish Centre for Composites Research, in addition to Irish Cement expertise, to develop a detailed research plan for the post space flight experiments in order to compare the ground control with the space experiment. The Irish Centre for Composites Research (IComp) and the Materials and Surface Science Institute (MSSI) have access to a suite of experimental facilities at the University of Limerick, which are utilized by the students under the supervision of Dr. Norah Patten (Communications and Outreach manager IComp and project coordinator). This allows the students to investigate the microstructures, having access to microscopes, and also to investigate some of the other properties of the material. The objectives of the investigation are to understand the effects of microgravity on the solidification process, the material properties and the microstructures and to investigate the effects of microgravity on the addition of the basalt fiber reinforcement.

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Applications

Space Applications
A 1994 space shuttle mission first studied how Portland cement solidifies in microgravity, resulting in a solid sample. This investigation builds on those results, adding a reinforcement material in the form of basalt fibers embedded in the cement. The investigation compares a space-based sample with a ground control experiment, comparing differences in concrete microstructures. Results provide insight into how microgravity affects the solidification process. A clearer understanding of how this building material forms in space will help designers of future space-based construction projects, including possible outposts on the moon, Mars or asteroids.

Earth Applications
Portland cement is used in concrete, mortar, stucco, grout and other materials found in infrastructure around the world. Understanding the physical factors affecting cement solidification will improve understanding of this crucial building material. In addition, secondary school students from Ireland developed the investigation along with their teacher, winning a national competition organized by the Irish Centre for Composites Research. The students developed skills and expertise to prepare them for careers in construction, science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

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Operations

Operational Requirements and Protocols
The MixStix are unclamped to combine different compartments, typically causing either activation or deactivation of the experiment. The MixStix are returned to the students.
A crewmember removes the Velcro tabs to open the Module-9 Ext lid. The crewmember unclamps the fasteners on the MixStix as directed, enabling the materials in the various chambers to flow. The crewmember then shakes the MixStix (when directed) to mix the liquids thoroughly. Repeat for all MixStix. Crewmember notes the time of MixStix activation and replaces the tubes back in Module-9. The lid is replaced and secured with the Velcro tabs.

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Decadal Survey Recommendations

Information Pending

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Results/More Information

Information Pending

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Related Websites
Space Cowboy Builders
Irish Centre for Composites Research
YouTube channel: ‘Ireland’s first secondary school experiment in space’

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Imagery

image The Space Cowboy Builders examining their NanoRacks-Irish Centre for Composites Research-St. Nessan’s Community College: Effects of microgravity on the solidification of reinforced concrete (NanoRacks-IComp-Space Cowboy Builders) MixStix in the laboratory facilities at the Irish Centre for Composites Research (IComp) University of Limerick. Jason Hannon, Jonathon Roche, Kevin Hanley and Jamie O’Connell are holding up one of the sample MixStix to examine the contents and some of the materials used in the experiment are displayed on the table include basalt fiber and concrete. Image courtesy of Sean Cutin.
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image The Space Cowboy Builders at the Antares Rocket integration facility in NASA Wallops, Virginia in May 2014. Kevin Hanley, Jonathon Roche, Jason Hannon and Jamie O’Connell stand next to the Orbital Sciences Antares rocket in NASA Wallops Virginia. The flights for this trip were sponsored by Irish Cement and the NASA visit was organised by Norah Patten (IComp). Image courtesy of Gavin Doyle.
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