NASA Is Preparing To Test An Electric Anti-Dust Shield on The Moon’s Surface in 2024

1st May 2024
NASA Is Preparing To Test An Electric Anti-Dust Shield on The Moon’s Surface in 2024

In the vast expanse of space, even the smallest particles can pose colossal challenges. While on Earth we may casually brush away specks of dust, on the Moon, it’s an entirely different story. Lunar dust, born in an atmosphere-free environment, resembles sharp, glass-like fragments with a stubborn grip. This lunar regolith poses a significant hurdle for upcoming NASA Artemis missions, particularly for crucial technology and communication devices.

Lunar regolith indeed poses a big problem for future NASA Artemis lunar missions, mainly for the technology and communications devices. The thing is that the fragments of lunar dust have a high electrostatic charge. Accumulated together on the surface, they create strong interference with the emission and reception of radio signals. Other important elements of space equipment: gaskets, seals, and sealed hatches may also be damaged by a long-term impact of lunar regolith.

With the first manned Artemis landings on the horizon for 2025, NASA is racing against time to develop effective solutions to combat the relentless impact of lunar regolith. 

Unusual solution

If mechanical dust removal is problematic under lunar surface conditions, electromagnetism can help. That’s why the Electrostatics and Surface Physics Laboratory at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida started developing the Electrodynamic Dust Shield (EDS) in 2004. EDS was the ideological successor to the Electric Curtain concept, which appeared in 1967, developed by F.B. Tatom and NASA’s collaborators. 

The technology makes it possible to create a non-uniform electric field on a surface that needs to be removed from dust. The influence of electricity weakens the electrostatic adhesion of dust particles, resulting in an active dust mitigation effect. By exposing lunar dust to a multiphase low-frequency alternating current discharge, dust can be removed from important elements of the lander module, solar panels, or even spacesuit.

EDS panels consist of a multi-ball electrical coating with a built-in electrode grid, which provides the necessary “waviness” of the generated electrical charges. Credit: NASA

Initially tested on Earth in vacuum chambers at the Surface Physics Laboratory, a working prototype was finally delivered to the ISS in 2019 as part of NASA’s Materials International Space Station Experiment (MISSE). Operating since 2001, MISSE has already tested over 4,000 materials and other technological solutions for conducting extraterrestrial activity.

Preparation for the control test

After 20 years of development and testing in near-extraterrestrial environments, EDS is finally ready to conduct its first lunar test. The Firefly Blue Ghost Mission 1 will deliver Blue Ghost to the lunar surface. The spaceship’s payload will include 10 instruments and tools for experiments under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, and Electrodynamic Dust Shield will be one of them.

Firefly Aerospace Blue Ghost
Credit: Firefly Aerospace

Charles Buhler, lead research scientist at the Electrostatics and Surface Physics Laboratory at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, who was directly involved in the creation of EDS, is very optimistic about the future of the technology.

Today, EDS is the most promising active dust technology, largely due to its wide range of applications: electrodynamic protective coatings can be applied to solar panels, thermal radiators, visors of spacesuits, and even the lenses of outdoor surveillance cameras.

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