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USC engineer to spotlight his NASA research

Behrokh Khoshnevis is working with NASA to design and build structures on the moon and Mars.

Behrokh Khoshnevis, a professor of industrial and systems engineering at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, has been invited to showcase his work at NASA’s annual Technology Day at the U.S. Capitol.

On July 23, Khoshnevis will present his NASA-funded Contour Crafting research, which uses computerized robots to build houses and facilities on Earth and elsewhere in the universe. He is currently working with NASA to design and build infrastructure elements, such as an airport on the moon and Mars.

“Behrokh’s work is one of the most creative and far-reaching concepts I’ve seen,” said Jason Derleth, NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program manager. “He really has a chance to change the world by robotically printing buildings here, and he may even change the next human world by doing the same on the moon and Mars.”

NASA sponsors this event each year to demonstrate how investments in space and aeronautical technology create or improve products and services that benefit life on Earth. Khoshnevis, along with 24 other invitees, will display his work to a distinguished audience that includes congressional leaders, top NASA officials and technology transfer professionals.

“Behrokh’s work has always been inventive and innovative,” said USC Viterbi Dean Yannis C. Yortsos, who has seen Khoshnevis’ research evolve over the years. “His work, a new version of 3-D printing at large scales, was inspired long before 3-D printing became popular, and has the potential to revolutionize construction. It is a testament to his creative and inventive mind.”

Khoshnevis plans to speak about his latest advancements in in-situ-resource utilization technology. He has pioneered the development of using solar power to melt elements from the moon’s surface into a building material similar to concrete. The material can be used to build structures and houses on the moon.

“I would like to see people live [on other planets], create atmospheres there, and change those planets to the extent that we can and that is not harmful to their existence,” Khoshnevis said.

Traditional concrete requires water to bind the dry composites that make up concrete: cement, sand and gravel. However, due to a lack of water and presence of a near-absolute vacuum, water-based concrete cannot be made on the moon. Khoshnevis discovered that sulfur, an element that is abundant on other planets, could serve as glue for the soil, creating a concrete-like substance.

By employing elements from the planetary landscape to create “concrete,” he has eliminated the need to transport anything but robotic equipment to these distant planets.

Once the moon’s soil has melted, robots print layers of this lunar concrete into an array of geometric shapes, enabling the construction of everything from laboratories and greenhouses to extraterrestrial homes.

Khoshnevis will also discuss his designs for landing pads, blast protection and shade walls, roads and hangars. He believes the creation of a lunar airport and base will pave the way for future planetary projects. He dreams of the day people can tap into such planetary resources as uranium and platinum, and even inhabit planets across the solar system.

“It is time to prepare for major missions to Mars and the moon and even to asteroids with the aim of real exploitation of the resources that these celestial bodies offer and preparation of new habitats for the future of humanity,” Khoshnevis said. “Our project is an early step toward materializing this vision.”

While it may be several years before this technology is used on the moon, domestic locations like Hawaii can benefit from it today. Hawaii currently imports all its concrete because volcanic soil, like lunar soil, does not contain the elements necessary to make concrete. Using Khoshnevis’ innovative process, Hawaii can easily create its own building material, which will help lower costs and make the building stock more affordable, he said.

Khoshnevis has pioneered the development of innovative fabrication and robotic technologies, which can be used to produce houses on a mass scale due to its low cost and high speed. His research has shown that these technologies can build a 2,500-square-foot house in 24 hours, whereas traditional building methods require six to eight months. This would be particularly beneficial for impoverished or disaster-stricken communities.

“I hold the belief that humanity has a long way to go — this is just the beginning,” Khoshnevis said. “We must be open-minded about the future and not assume any limits.”

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USC engineer to spotlight his NASA research

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