"Test-Rad" Regolith Mitigation Technology Design for NASA

Designing a three-layer Lunar Dust Mitigation technology for NASA's Big Idea Challenge

Overview

Our team RISD & Brown team is 1 of the 7 teams selected by NASA out of 80+ university teams to be awarded a portion of the $1 million dollars in funding!

The Mission

The Big Idea Challenge is a graduate school & PhD level contest hosted by NASA. In this challenge, teams design, build and test new dust mitigation technologies that can be applied in lunar applications. Our objective is to design a solution for pertinent issues such as dust clinging to spacesuits and optical systems, dust clouds that form upon landing, and hazardous in-cabin particulate levels. 

Who it's for:

NASA The National Institute of Aerospace (NIA) 

Time Frame

October 2020 - December 2021

Team: 16 people

My Role: 

Video and Graphics Lead

Application Researcher

Technical Writer for proposal & research paper

Static Generator Researcher

All Teams: 

Matlab Modeling

Applications Research

Fibers Prototyping

Static Generator

Writing

Video and Graphics

Publications:

Dirty+astronaut.jpeg

Design Goals & Challenges

Design Goal

To prevent damage to life support functionalities, reduce the deterioration of the seals on the suit, and create a higher standard of safety for astronauts.

Challenges:

The finer regolith, or lunar dust, derived from the coarser soil is one of the “principal limiting factors” for extended moonwalks, which will be occurring frequently during the Artemis missions.

- Regolith is highly abrasive, cohesive, and adhesive. The latter is due to the dust’s tendency to be electrostatically charged and aggravates the dust removal process.

- lunar dust affects all outer garments, especially lower limbs, seals, and bearings. Extensive wear of these sensitive joints over long periods of time could potentially induce catastrophic failures of the suit.

 

- Protection of sensitive joint areas is of critical importance. The accumulation and cohesion of glassy particles can cause an exponential loop of abrasion. This may create a negative feedback loop in extreme scenarios where dust entering a joint induces abrasion, which thus increases the size of the joint and lets in more dust. Dust accumulation problems from spacesuit joints can result in difficulty in spacesuit management of bearings to tearing of the outer layers. 

The Design

TEST-RAD: Tufted Electrostatic Solution To Regolith Adhesion Dilemma

- Provides systematic layers of protection from electrostatically charged regolith at the spacesuit’s most vulnerable points. This will be accomplished by prototyping a dense, three-layer system attached to suits at the joints where abrasion is most likely to occur.

These areas include the knees, lower legs, the abdominal seal, and possibly the shoulder seal, as well as bearings.

TEST-RAD consists of 3 layers.

 

1. A backing fabric that directly attaches to the suit and acts as an insulator to stop charge proliferation from the middle layer.

 

2. A middle layer consisting of an electrostatic system that takes advantage of the charged nature of regolith and repels it from the suit.

The system of repulsion is created by wires connecting to a stainless steel mesh which then transfers charge to the tufted fibers, which make up the conductive outermost layer. The life support system of the spacesuit provides power to this system through the use of a static generator.

 

3. There are additional clusters of shorter, non-conductive, catching fibers lying underneath the conductive layer which accumulate any dust particles able to penetrate the electrostatic barrier.

There are three physical characteristics of the lunar regolith by which TEST-RAD will utilize in protecting the suit-wearer: shape, size and charge. Test Rad combines two technologies intended to stop the penetration of regolith into fabric or seals. It uses electrostatic shielding combined with a novel tufted fiber to repel same-charge particles.

 

Electrostatic shielding is an already proven concept for the repulsion of lunar dust.

However, due to the variation in regolith size and shape, coupled with the additional stress put on suits during EVA, this mitigation technique alone is not significant enough to fully protect the suit. Our addition of densely packed fibers design is inspired by the impenetrable density of chinchilla fur. It blocks out sharp dust particles aims to provide a complete solution to that problem. The tufted fibers will provide a physical barrier between the electrostatic generation assembly (EGA) and the regolith.

Concept & Proposal Video

Adherence to the Design Constraints

Significance

Direct Impact:

Improve the safety of astronauts on extended moonwalks through the deflection of regolith. Specifically, it optimizes the durability and functionality of key sections of the suit, such as joints, bearings, and seals. It will also lessen the amount of free regolith in habitation modules as dust particles are actively repelled from the fabric. Lastly, it should decrease the time needed for overall suit cleaning which should help the crew focus on much more significant tasks.

Impact on NASA's Artemis Missions:

One of the center points of the NASA Artemis missions is the establishment of a long-duration crew presence on the moon to conduct science and to itself be a testing ground for future missions further into space. One of the major aspects of the on-surface parts of the mission is the ability to traverse the surface of the moon on a totally new scale. TEST-RAD fits perfectly into this goal of the Artemis missions as this system will create more opportunities for easier and safer travel, extending the life of suits and their components by limiting detrimental interactions with regolith.

The “Scientific Themes for Human Lunar Return” are the following:

(1) Bombardment of the Earth-Moon System,

(2) Lunar processes and history, 

(3) Scientific resources in the permanently shadowed polar environment,

(4) Regolith as the recorder of the Sun’s history,

(5) Biomedicine,

(6) Using the Moon’s resources,

(7) Astronomy

 

It is clear that 5 out of the 7 goals present a direct need for lunar contact and exploration outside of pressurized environments (such as the habitation area or the habitable mobility platform). With this much expected EVA time it follows that technology for efficient and safe EVA will be of high priority, TEST-RAD will be one part of the EVA system adding a meaningful contribution of safety and efficiency to the system overall. 

Verification on Earth

&Path to Flight

In addition to testing at NASA The National Institute of Aerospace (NIA), Test-Rad would be subject to various phases of regolith simulant tests in simulated environments like the vacuum chamber.

We are still working on this!

Moving Forward...

- Fiber Prototyping

- Matlab Modeling & Computer Simulated Tests

- Static Generator Design

- Electrostatic Integration

- Application Research Report

- Integrated Prototype

. . .

- Hand over to NASA

Thank you! Check out my other projects!