Testing interplanetary landers means putting them in an environment as close to their destination as possible. Mars landers are often tested in the ‘Mars Yard’ at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in South California and now, ESA are looking to build a similar test bed for the Moon. They are mining a mateiral in Greenland known as Anorthosite to create the largest lunar test bed yet.
This amazing project has seen the European Space Agency enter into a partnership with Lumina Sustainable Materials to provide some rock samples that are similar to material found on the Moon. The international ESA team is made up of scientists from the VULCAN Facility in the UK and the LUNA facility in Germany – both part of the agency’s preparations for long term human and robotic spaceflight to the Moon.
There are many challenges in exploring the Moon’s surface but its fine powdery nature makes it difficult for locomotion but also in clogging up moving parts in landers. The plan is to develop a testbed at the LUNA German Aerospace Centre to replicate the lunar regolith, the fine powder dust covering the surface of hte Moon. At the VULCAN test centre there is a collection of terrestirial samples that are very similar to the lunar regolith and it is these that are going to be used to develop the testbeds.
The team plan to develop a site that will measure 700 square metres and replicate the lunar mare surface. A second smaller bed wil simulate the the lunar highland. To achieve this will require about 20 tonnes of anorthosite, a light coloured igneous rock. A unique technology for mining the material has been developed that relies upon no chemical processes enabling any waste to be safely returned to the environment, supporting the ESA sustainability strategy.
The team were able to see first hand how the material was mined and processed giving valuable insight into handling large volumes of dusty material. Drawing on the valuable in-house expertise from the Lumina team, the ESA groups learned how to best conrol a dusty test environment. The test centres for lunar surface are due to be running some time during 2024 but the exact date is still to be confirmed.