By: Mehran Mohebbi
Principle Investigator: Dr. Juan Agui
NASA is planning to have manned missions to Mars in near future. In order to do so, NASA will be using the moon as a base for the missions to Mars and other future interplanetary missions. Using the moon as a launch base has significant advantages. The launching spacecraft will experience significantly less drag forces due to the absence of atmosphere, and also, the low gravity of the moon allows for carrying more cargo. However, on the other hand, there are many challenges that need to be overcome in order to use the moon as a permanent base. These challenges include extreme temperature variations, radiation, lunar dust, and etc. To overcome these challenges, NASA is conducting new experiments and developing new techniques.
One of the least known subjects about the moon is the properties and behavior of its dust, which is very different from the dust encountered on Earth. These particles are very fine, with sharp edges. The properties of lunar dust make it very problematic. Due to its very small size, lunar dust can easily levitate and penetrate into mechanical devices, space suites, habitat compartments, and etc. It also can be electrically charged, and become very adhesive. In order to go back to the moon and set a permanent base on its surface, the problem of the lunar dust has become a major issue that needs to be solved. One of the projects that is currently being developed to study these particles is the Exploration Life Support Dust Mitigation project. Over the summer, I will be working on this project with Dr. Juan Agui as my PI. The objective of this project is to develop new filtration methods for lunar dust to protect both the equipments and the crew, which will stay on the moon for a long period of time.
Currently, the Dust Mitigation project is in its design phase. To investigate the behavior of the lunar dust, a closed-loop wind-tunnel-like system, called the Lunar Dust Filtration Testing Facility, will be built. Simulated lunar dust will be injected into the tunnel and it will pass through different filters. A particle counter will count the number of the dust particles both before and after the filter to analyze its effectiveness. Laser Doppler Velocimetry (LDV) will be used to measure the velocity of the particles. An incomplete and smaller prototype of this testing facility has been already built; however, the final system is going through the final calculations and design processes.
My Role as a Research Associate:
The design of this project has not been finalized yet; therefore, more research needs to be done. Currently, I am doing some research and reading on my own to familiarize myself with the science behind the project. I will be working mostly in the lab, where the prototype of the system is located, with other engineers to calibrate and complete the prototype for the final design. Since I will be working with a 20W Laser, I need to view a series of Laser Safety videos in order to be allowed in the lab. In addition, I will be taking a course to learn how to operate the laser and get certified. I am also in charge of the research to find a suitable particle counter. Particle counters are mostly built for pressurized or ambient systems; however, since the Lunar Dust Filtration Testing Facility is a vacuumed system required and it needs to maintain the pressure below the atmospheric pressure, normal particle counters will, most likely, not be usable.
The completion of this project is crucial for the mission to the moon. The data acquired from this project will allow the NASA engineers and scientists to develop new filtration techniques to protect the crew and the sensitive machinery from the destructive effects of the lunar dust. My personal objectives from this project are to learn as much as possible in this area, be an excellent representative of the NASA Academy, and expand my experience and knowledge in science and leadership.