Artemis Astronauts Could Rely on Solar Cells Made out of Moon Dust

Artist impression of a Moon Base concept. Credit: ESA – P. Carril

Within the next decade, several space agencies and commercial space partners will send crewed missions to the Moon. Unlike the “footprints and flags” missions of the Apollo Era, these missions are aimed at creating a “sustained program of lunar exploration.” In other words, we’re going back to the Moon with the intent to stay, which means that infrastructure needs to be created. This includes spacecraft, landers, habitats, landing and launch pads, transportation, food, water, and power systems. As always, space agencies are looking for ways to leverage local resources to meet these needs.

This process is known as in-situ resource utilization (ISRU), which reduces costs by limiting the number of payloads that need to be launched from Earth. Thanks to new research by a team from the Tallinn University of Technology (TalTech) in Estonia, it may be possible for astronauts to produce solar cells using locally-sources regolith (moon dust) to create a promising material known as pyrite. These findings could be a game-changer for missions in the near future, which include the ESA’s Moon Village, NASA’s Artemis Program, and the Sino-Russian International Lunar Research Station (ILRS).

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Chris Hadfield Drives in the Desert With a new Lunar Rover Prototype

The FLEX (Flexible Logistics & Exploration) rover. Credit: Astrolab.

As the Apollo astronauts found out, mobility is everything. Apollo’s Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) – sometimes called the Lunar Rover or Moon Buggy – completely changed how the astronauts could explore the lunar surface.

Harrison Schmitt of Apollo 17 said, “Without it, the major scientific discoveries of Apollo 15, 16, and 17 would not have been possible, and our current understanding of lunar evolution would not have been possible.”

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NASA is Upping the Power on its Lunar Wattage Challenge!

Credit: HeroX

For years, NASA has been gearing up for its long-awaited return to the Moon with the Artemis Program. Beginning in 2025, this program will send the first astronauts (“the first woman and first person of color”) to the Moon since the end of the Apollo Era. Beyond that, NASA plans to establish the necessary infrastructure to allow for a “sustained program of lunar exploration,” such as the Lunar Gateway and the Artemis Base Camp.

Beyond these facilities, several elements are essential to ensuring a long-term human presence on the Moon. These include shelter from the elements, food, air, water, and of course, power. To address this last element, NASA has teamed up with HeroX – the leading crowdsourcing platform – to launch the NASA Watts on the Moon Challenge. This competition is entering Phase II and will award an additional $4.5 million for innovative concepts that supply power to future lunar missions.

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Self-Driving Lunar Rovers for Astronaut Road Trips on the Moon

What happens when you cross one of the world’s largest defense contractors with one of the world’s largest automobile manufacturers?  Apparently, you get an electrically powered autonomous lunar rover.  At least that is the fruit of a new collaboration between Lockheed Martin (LM) and General Motors (GM).  

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Move Over Artemis Accords! Behold the Lunar Governance Report and EAGLE Manifesto!

Illustration of Artemis astronauts on the Moon. Credits: NASA

In July 1999, the Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC) was created with the purpose of representing the “Space Generation” to the UN Office of Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA). For this non-governmental organization and professional network, this would consist of bringing the “views of students and young space professionals to the United Nations (UN), space industry and other organizations”.

Given the importance of the Moon for all of our future space exploration goals, SGAC created an interdisciplinary group in June of 2020 that is focused on lunar policy. Known as the Effective and Adaptive Governance for a Lunar Ecosystem (E.A.G.L.E.), this group of 14 young space professionals is dedicated to ensuring that the younger generation has a voice when it comes to the development of regulations for lunar policy.

On May 12th, 2021, the SGAC released the report prepared by the EAGLE group, which outlines their ideas and proposals for how we can ensure that the regulations governing lunar activities are inclusive, effective, and adaptative. It’s known as the Lunar Governance Report, a document that will be presented during the 2021 meetings of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS).

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ESA is Working on a Mission to Explore Caves on the Moon

Infrastructure is going to be one of the biggest components of any permanent human settlement on the moon.  NASA Artemis missions are focused directly on building up the facilities and processes necessary to support a moon base.  ESA is also contributing both material and knowledge.  Most recently they made another step in their path to explore some lava tubes and caves in the subterranean lunar world.

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Figuring Out How To Breathe the Moon’s Regolith

Oxygen ranks right up there as one of the most important resources for use in space exploration.  Not only is it a critical component of rocket fuel, it’s also necessary for astronauts to breathe anywhere outside Earth’s atmosphere.  Availability of this abundant resource isn’t a problem – it’s widely available throughout the solar system.  One place it is particularly prevalent is lunar regolith, the thin material layer that makes up the moon’s surface.  The difficulty comes from one of the quirks of oxygen – it bonds to almost everything.

Approximately 45% of the weight of regolith is oxygen, but it is bonded to materials such as iron and titanium.  To utilize both the oxygen and the materials it’s bonded to they must be separated.  And a British company, with support from the European Space Agency, has begun testing a technique to judge its potential effectiveness on the moon.

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NASA Announces 14 New “Tipping Point” Technologies for its Lunar Exploration

Artist's impression of surface operations on the Moon. Credit: NASA

In four years, NASA plans to return astronauts to the Moon as part of Project Artemis. To ensure the success of this endeavor, as well as the creation of a program of sustainable lunar exploration by the end of the decade, NASA has partnered with multiple entities in the commercial space sector. Recently, they announced that contracts will be awarded to 14 additional companies to develop a range of proposed technologies.

These proposals are part of NASA’s fifth competitive Tipping Point solicitation, one of many private-public partnership programs overseen by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD). For this latest solicitation, Tipping Point is awarding contracts with a combined value of over $370 million for technology demonstrations that will facilitate future lunar missions and commercial space capabilities.

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Finally! A Solution to Deal With Sticky Lunar Dust

As a wise man once said, “I don’t like sand.  It’s coarse and rough and irritating – and it gets everywhere”.  The same could be said for another material in our solar system – dust.

The kind of dust present on the moon is even more annoying than the grains that bothered Anakin Skywalker on Tatooine.  It is constantly bathed in solar radiation, smells like spent gunpowder, and can cause allergic reactions, as it did in some of the Apollo astronauts.  It’s also notoriously difficult to clean off of surfaces.  Now a team of scientists at the University of Colorado at Boulder think they have a solution that would remove lunar dust without harming the material it’s attached to.  And they would do this by using a tool that sounds like it’s straight out of Star Wars – an electron beam.

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NASA Chooses 10 Projects that Will Help it Live Off the Land… on the Moon

Artist's impression of surface operations on the Moon. Credit: NASA

Before this decade is out, NASA plans to send astronauts to the Moon for the first time since the Apollo Era and establish a sustainable program of lunar exploration. In order to ensure that future lunar missions are cost-effective and not entirely dependent on Earth for resupply, NASA is looking for ways to leverage lunar resources – everything from water ice to oxygen-rich regolith – to meet their astronauts’ needs.

This process, known as In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU), is a major part of NASA’s plans to explore the Moon in the coming years, as well their long-term plans to send astronauts to Mars. To help them meet this challenge, NASA recently selected 10 proposals through its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program to developed ISRU-related technologies.

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