Two new University of Central Florida projects will test innovative technologies designed to help astronauts return safely to the moon.
NASA recently funded the projects that will help scientists better understand the nature of lunar dust so that its potentially damaging effects to equipment and spacecraft during lunar landings can be minimized.
Addie Dove, an assistant professor in UCF’s Department of Physics, is an investigator on both projects.
On one, she will lead an effort to study charged dust behavior in microgravity and test sensors that will characterize the charging behavior of dust in a lunar-like environment. She received $500,000 for the project, and the experiment will fly on future flights by Blue Origin, a commercial space company.
For the other project, Dove is co-principal investigator with Phil Metzger, a planetary scientist with UCF’s Florida Space Institute. This project will test and improve a laser-based sensor designed to measure the density and particle size of dust and rocks ejected from a lunar landing.
UCF received about $125,000 for this project, which will be completed in conjunction with Masten Space Systems, a space transportation company in Mojave, California.
The projects are funded as part of NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program, which allows researchers to use suborbital flights and other flight platforms to test and refine technology that may one day be used on missions to the moon and beyond.
The charged-dust project will test sensors that examine how charged dust reacts in low gravity, which can inform strategies to keep lunar dust from damaging electronics, solar cells and mechanical equipment during moon missions.
“We’re very interested in the dust on the lunar surface, how it behaves and how it will behave when people are walking around or rovers are driving around,” Dove says. “You’re going to get a lot of complicated electrical and dynamical interactions.”
The lunar lander laser will be tested and optimized aboard Masten rockets next year, which can mimic lunar descent trajectories. This will help researchers determine where to place the sensor and how to best integrate it into a lander on future missions to the moon.
This work is important to not only determine strategies to mitigate the effects of lunar dust ejected from the moon’s surface at more than five times the speed of sound during a landing, but also to help establish blast zones for landings, Metzger says.
“We have to share the moon so that we’re not sandblasting each other’s hardware,” Metzger says. “We don’t want to damage our own hardware, but we have an international obligation not to damage the hardware of other nations as well. The Outer Space Treaty puts that obligation upon every spacefaring nation to do no harm.”
Dove received her doctorate in astrophysical and planetary sciences from the University of Colorado at Boulder and her bachelor’s degree in physics and astronomy from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She joined UCF in 2012.
Metzger received his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Auburn University and his master’s and doctorate in physics from UCF. Before joining UCF in 2014, he worked at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center for nearly 30 years.