NASA engineers have created a new coating technology which they believe could help mitigate the Moon dust challenge.
Keeping the Moon’s dust grains from adhering to virtually everything they touch – including spacesuits – has remained one of NASA’s thorniest issues ever.
Mitigating this will be of paramount value to the agency as it wants to establish sustainable exploration on the Moon by 2028 under its Artemis Program.
Though originally conceived to ‘bleed off’ the build-up of electrical charges that destroy spacecraft electronics, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center technologists Vivek Dwivedi and Mark Hasegawa believe their coating could be also be applied for lunar dust busting.
Electrical charge build-ups occur when spacecraft fly through plasma found within Earth’s magnetosphere.
Plasma contains trapped charged particles that conduct electricity, contributing to the build-up.
As it turns out, the plasma that can damage electronics as spacecraft fly through Earth’s magnetosphere is also the source of the Moon’s dust problem.
The Moon’s dust is made up of ultra-tiny grains. Not only can they travel at hurricane-like speeds, but they also cling to all types of surfaces due to their electrostatic charge.
On the day side of the Moon, harsh, unshielded ultraviolet radiation from the Sun kicks electrons off the dust particles in the upper layers of the lunar regolith or soil, giving the surface of each dust particle a net positive charge.
On the dark side as well as in the polar regions, the situation is a little different: Plasma flowing out from the Sun also charges the lunar surface, but, in this case, it deposits electrons and creates a net negative charge.
It gets more complex at the terminator where the two sides meet and even stronger electric fields develop – all of which could affect humans or technology that land on the Moon.
For astronauts, the situation will be made worse because they carry their own charge and, as the Apollo missions proved, will attract dust as they rove about the Moon.
Because NASA has eyed the Moon’s southern pole for possible human habitation, it’s especially important that NASA develop efficient ways to dissipate these charges, contends Dwivedi.
NASA’s coating seems promising enough to mitigate such issues.
The engineers are also making use of Atomic Laser Deposition to produce conductive skin materials that can be made either conductive or dissipative.
Image and content: NASA