Space dust or also known as regolith could harm robots, which is a critical issue for future space missions. But Masten Space Systems, a California-based aerospace manufacturer startup company, has developed a technology that will reduce the problem of regolith while lunar landers land on the Moon's surface.
Instant Landing Pads Could Reduce Regolith During Landing
Space dust is known to be notorious to robots because it could clog engines and instruments or, worse, damage them. Compounding the problem on regolith is the size of the new lunar landers being developed and their powerful engines.
One solution could be building landing pads on the Moon, which is incredibly expensive that costs an estimated $120 million per pad. But Masten Space Systems thought of an alternative way to solve this. News outlet ZDNet has been tracking the development of this new technology and now Masten is in phase 1 of testing it.
According to the news outlet, the concept behind Masten's technology is creating a near-instantaneous landing pad by injecting ceramic particles into rocket plumes so that it will form a coating over the Moon's surface where the lander will descend. This could reduce issues on space dust while landing.
The company has been testing this technology, which they call in-Flight alumina Spray Technique (FAST). In a news release by Masten, they admitted that they spent the last year studying and advancing FAST after receiving the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts award for Phase 1 of their instant landing pads. They also wrote that they just wrapped up their initial research that proves FAST is feasible on the lunar surface.
The technology has a long way to go before it will be implemented not only for lunar missions but also for future space missions as Masten has ambitiously set its sights on Mars.
They aim to test the instant landing pad technology in a lunar environment during the next phase to further develop it. In the future, FAST can be applied as well on other planets where regolith also poses risks to humans and robots.
Why is Space Dust Hazardous?
During the Apollo 17 mission, all 12 people who stepped on the Moon caught "lunar hay fever," as described by NASA astronaut Harrison Schmitt. They developed symptoms from sneezing to nasal congestion for days, and the spacecraft inside smelt like burnt gunpowder.
According to ESA, lunar dust has silicate that is commonly found on planets with volcanic activity. On Earth, miners would often suffer from scarred lungs after inhaling silicate. But on Moon, regolith is so abrasive that it ate away layers of spacesuit boots and damaged vacuum seals of sample containers of Apollo.
These fine-like powder and sharp particles suspended in the air for longer periods because of the low gravity on the Moon could penetrate deeply into the lungs, causing toxic effects. The potential damage is still unknown, but previous studies have shown that it can damage the lungs and brain cells after long-term exposure.
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