A new system can independently deploy a lunar landing pad with lunar dust

California-based Masten Space Systems is developing a method to protect lunar landings from clouds of lunar dust ejected by their own engines on descent, press release reveals. The innovative approach would see landers inject ceramic alumina particles into the rocket engine’s plume to stick the moon’s dust together, creating an impromptu landing pad on the moon’s surface just before landing.

Moon dust or regolith is a surprisingly serious problem for future space missions – so much so that NASA announced an award program last year for students who could come up with new innovative methods to deal with the problem. Small sharp particles of material can cause damage to spacecraft machinery, spacesuits and equipment, and can even damage astronauts’ lungs in future space habitats.

Lunar landing engines drive sharp regolith particles at a speed of 3000 meters per second

The problem with lunar regolith wear was a problem with Apollo-era perches, which weighed approximately 10 metric tons. Now, with NASA the upcoming missions of the Moon Artemis, it aims to send much heavier perches to the moon, weighing approximately 20 to 60 metric tons. Masten explains that these landings will send sharp regolith particles dangerously ejected at speeds of more than 3,000 meters per second.

The company that recently introduced lunar rover design who uses controlled explosions to collect lunar ice and provide water and oxygen for future lunar missions, hopes his new solution will help mitigate the threat posed by this potentially silent killer. Their method called in-flight alumina spraying technique (QUICKLY), injects aluminum-ceramic particles into the rocket train of the landing craft as it descends to the surface of the moon.

Cross section of the internal operation of the FAST system. Source: Masten space systems

FAST ceramic alumina particles cover the area just below the perch before allowing it to cool and harden quickly to form a landing pad. with greater thermal and ablation resistance. In just 10 seconds, the FAST system can drop 186 kg (410 lb) of particles onto a circular area 6 m (20 ft) in diameter, Masten said. The landing party will then need to move for only 2.5 seconds until the pad cools down before touching.

Masten completed a one-year preliminary study of his new FAST method in collaboration with Honeybee Robotics, the University of Texas A&M and the University of Central Florida under the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts Phase 1 Award. The companies estimate that the cost of a mission to build a moon landing site for the next moon landing will be approximately $ 120 million, prompting them to come up with a more cost-effective approach.

Stand-alone landing pads could allow human exploration like never before

In the tests, Masten and his partners determined the best particle deposition rate, the thickness of the landing pad and how the ceramic particles would stick together to form a landing pad on the moon, and how effective this substrate would be to prevent scattering. to dust. They say the concept is feasible, even for the largest of Artemis’ proposed landings, and that the size and temperature of the engine loop can be adjusted depending on the size of the landing pad needed.

Masten then literally shoots for the moon, as he would like to try his method on the moon. Other similar approaches have been proposed, such as student “Lunar PAD”, which is 3D printed and has a series of petal-like channels that send the exhaust gases up and out simultaneously with the capture of moon dust. Masten’s new offering has the potential to allow landers to touch safely with minimal required materials, potentially helping to promote human research, like several other concepts.

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