Recommended Research in Materials Science

Recommended research in materials science is summarized below and in Table 9.1 in the next section.

Materials Synthesis and Processing and Control of Microstructure and Properties

The space environment enables the production of benchmark data for the development of microstructure, crystal growth, nucleation, and the synthesis of composites. These data, along with computational materials science, will improve the methods used for the synthesis and processing of existing and new materials on the ground. This would increase the ability to understand and predict formation of microstructures in a wide range of materials in both terrestrial and space environments. Results that will alter the fundamental understanding of these processes and improve terrestrial materials processing could be obtained by 2020, with longer-term efforts requiring new hardware.

Advanced Materials

New advanced materials would enable operations under increasingly harsh space environments and reduce the cost of human exploration. By 2020, advanced materials that meet new property requirements could be designed and developed using both current and novel materials synthesis and processing techniques and computational methods.

Research in this area should support the development of the following critical technologies described in Chapter 10 (see Table 10.4): inflatable aerodynamic decelerators, space nuclear propulsion, fission surface power, and radiation protection systems.

In Situ Resource Utilization

There is a strategic and critical need to utilize extraterrestrial resources for future space exploration and thereby extend human space exploration capabilities. Fundamental and applied research is required in developing technologies for the extraction, synthesis, and processing of minerals, metals, and other materials that are available on extraterrestrial surfaces. By 2020, a select group of strategic elements (e.g., oxygen and silicon), materials, and components could be identified and produced from simulated lunar and martian regolith both on Earth and in reduced gravity.

Research in this area should support the development of the following critical technologies described in Chapter 10 (see Table 10.4): ISRU capability planning and lunar water and oxygen extraction systems.


The following criteria were used to develop a subset of high-priority topics from those presented above in this chapter.

Enabling research

1. The importance of the problem being addressed by this research.

2. The degree of impact that the research will have on the problem being addressed.

3. The likelihood that the research will be successful in addressing the problem. The risk of an investigation failing to reach a successful conclusion.

4. A reasonable potential that needed resources such as crew time and research platforms could become available.

5. The consumption of program resources compared to that by other potential investigations.

6. The contribution to terrestrial value (medicine, economy, education, national security, etc.).

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