Decoding Moon dust and its potentially damaging effects

Devdiscourse News Desk | California | Updated: 19-02-2024 10:02 IST | Created: 17-02-2024 22:25 IST
Decoding Moon dust and its potentially damaging effects
Image Credit: NASA
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As humanity prepares to return to the Moon under the Artemis campaign, researchers at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida are analyzing data from a recent suborbital flight test to better understand lunar regolith or Moon dust and its damaging effects.

The Electrostatic Regolith Interaction Experiment (ERIE), one of 14 NASA-supported payloads launched on December 19 aboard Blue Origin's New Shepard uncrewed rocket from West Texas, collected data to help researchers study tribocharging, or friction-induced charges, in microgravity.

Lunar regolith poses significant challenges for space exploration missions. The dust grains can attract lunar explorers and their equipment - similar to how a statically charged balloon sticks to a person's head, potentially causing instruments to overheat or not function as intended.

"For example, if you get dust on an astronaut suit and bring it back into the habitat, that dust could unstick and fly around the cabin. One of the major problems is that there’s no way to electrically ground anything on the Moon. So even a lander, rover, or really any object on the Moon will have polarity to it. There's no good solution to the dust charging problem right now," says Krystal Acosta, a researcher for NASA's triboelectric sensor board component inside the ERIE payload.

The ERIE payload spent approximately three minutes in microgravity during the suborbital flight, which lasted about 10 minutes before landing safely back on Earth in the Texas desert. The results will inform applications for future missions destined for the lunar surface. The findings will guide the development of technologies that will help keep lunar regolith from sticking to and damaging astronaut suits and electronics during missions. 

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