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Basalt Launch Pad Tiles to Undergo Testing by NASA

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
September 2, 2020
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Geology Tech Kyla Edison removes basalt tiles from their molds after being sintered. (Credit: PISCES)

HILO, Hawaii (PISCES PR) — The Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems (PISCES) completed a large batch of sintered basalt tiles last month for testing by NASA’s Swamp Works at Kennedy Space Center. Thirty tiles will be assessed as a launch and landing pad material. The testing will be conducted by Masten Space Systems in Mojave, Calif.

Earlier this year, Masten tested a 12” x 12” x 1” tile made by PISCES, subjecting it to a two-second rocket burst fueled by liquid oxygen and liquid methane. The results of the test caught the interest of Swamp Works, who requested the latest batch of tiles.

The next test will involve three one-square-meter launch pads (each containing nine tiles), subjecting them to a dynamic rocket blast that simulates launch and landing conditions.

Once the results of the NASA test are published, PISCES will determine how to continue developing sintered basalt materials for commercial applications on Earth and infrastructure for space settlement.

Raw basalt fines are carefully placed and packed into a mold for the sintering process. (Credit: PISCES)

PISCES began researching basalt-based launchpad tiles in 2014 and sent raw Hawaiʻi basalt fines to a team at NASA for sintering. Between the fall of 2015 and 2016, PISCES created a series of interlocking basalt tiles for the Additive Construction with Mobile Emplacement (ACME) project, which staged a robotically built, full-scale launch pad.

The tiles were designed at NASA and sintered by PISCES using Hawaiʻi basalt. After being placed by a planetary rover with a robotic arm provided by Honeybee Robotics, the tiles underwent a static fire test to assess their durability under the heat and pressure of a rocket blast.

The experience of these previous projects and tests led to refinements and further experimentation to improve the tiles’ strength and durability. The chemical composition of raw basalt is a key factor in producing quality sintered products.

Basalt sampled from varying locations can produce significantly different materials when sintering, some better than others. The latest generation of tiles is much stronger than those built during the ACME project. The PISCES team is looking forward to the test results and will continue researching basalt for ISRU applications.