Alfred University News

Alfred University ceramic research materials back on campus after months on International Space Station

Alfred University Microscopist Darren Stohr and graduate student Alexander Bailey
Alfred University Microscopist Darren Stohr and graduate student Alexander Bailey

ALFRED, NY – A collection of ceramic rods manufactured at Alfred University and launched into space in 2019 have been returned to the University for analysis and possibly significant data for future settlement on Earth’s moon and the planet Mars.


ALFRED, NY – A collection of ceramic rods manufactured at Alfred University and launched into space in 2019 have been returned to the University for analysis and possibly significant data for future settlement on Earth’s moon and the planet Mars.

The rectangular rods, about six inches long and a quarter-inch wide, were manufactured using the Ex-One 3-D printer housed in Alfred University’s Ceramic Research Education and Technology Enterprise (CREATE) Center. Now back on the campus, the rods will be examined, likely in the next several weeks, by Scanning Electron Microscopist Darren Stohr and graduate student Alexander Bailey, with further support from Xingwu Wang, Professor of Electrical Engineering at Alfred University’s Inamori School of Engineering.

Launched on Nov. 12, 2019 in a Northrop Gruman Cygnus rocket, the ceramic materials were transported to the International Space Station, then exposed directly to the outer space environment for about eight months, from Dec. 19, 2019 to Sept. 3, 2020. They will be examined using scanning electron microscopy (SEM) analysis to determine the extent of structural changes caused by their exposure to the environment. Additional testing will focus on how those structural changes lead to altered critical properties.

The larger goal, explains Bailey, is to assess whether a similar 3-D printing process can take place on the moon or Mars using materials available on lunar or Martian surfaces. Such on-site manufacturing processes would be far more cost-effective than transporting materials to the moon or Mars from earth.

The project was reviewed in an article published in the August 2018 American Ceramic Society (ACerS) Bulletin, co-authored by nine researchers including Wang. The article, “To Infinity and Beyond: Outer Space Applications of 3-D Ceramics Printed Via Ink Jet Methods,” outlined the need for small, functional ceramic components, such as radiation detectors, humidity sensors, and chemical sniffers, to aid in establishing exploratory bases on the moon and/or Mars.

In photograph accompanying this article, Alfred University Scanning Electron Microscopist Darren Stohr holds samples of ceramic materials delivered to the International Space Station while graduate student Alexander Bailey, of Bath, holds the actual materials in their case and enclosed in plastic, which he and Stohr weill be examining soon.