When the Moon Dust Settles, It Won’t Settle in VIPER’s Wheels

Victoria D. Doty

Moon dust is a formidable adversary – the grains are as fantastic as powder and as sharp as small shards of glass. For the duration of the Apollo seventeen mission to the Moon, the astronauts lamented how the dust discovered its way into almost everything, coating their spacesuits and jamming the shoulder joints, finding inside of their lunar habitat and even leading to indications of a non permanent “lunar dust hay fever” in astronaut Harrison Schmitt. All those indications thankfully went away swiftly – but the challenge of Moon dust stays for long term missions.

Robotics engineer Jason Schuler performs a preliminary test to put together for dust tests of a variety of seals for the wheel motors on NASA’s Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, or VIPER, March seventeen, 2020, at NASA’s Kennedy Room Middle in Florida. The test usually takes place in a bin keeping additional than one hundred twenty tons of simulated lunar regolith – loose dirt, dust and rock – that is employed to assistance simulate the qualities of the lunar floor. Credits: NASA

NASA’s new Moon rover, the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, has been working exams to make sure its wheel module elements are dust-proof in advance of likely to the Moon in 2023. VIPER’s occupation is to hunt for h2o means at the Moon’s South Pole, creating the 1st useful resource maps for human area exploration before astronauts arrive less than NASA’s Artemis program in 2024.

But that dust, while.

The grating grains in concern were shaped by millions of yrs of meteorite impacts that continuously crushed and melted rocks, creating small shards of glass and mineral fragments. Simply because the Moon has no ambiance to discuss of, there is no wind or weather to result in erosion, so the grains never eliminate their tough edges. When lunar dust gets inside of transferring sections, like those people in a rover’s wheel, it’s so abrasive that it can harm the mechanisms. And the additional joints you have in a technique, the additional areas you have for dust to creep in. VIPER’s necessary agility suggests it has a lot of joints.

No 1 is pretty confident what to be expecting from the soil in the polar regions the rover will check out. Will it be compacted? Or fluffy, like ash? To perform all over that uncertainty, VIPER desires to be agile. Just about every of the rover’s four wheel modules were intended with equally an lively suspension and impartial steering. This suggests VIPER can drive sideways or diagonally and even spin in a circle. The rover can go in any path with out switching which way it’s facing, so its science goals and photo voltaic panel charging can be optimized. And, if it encounters really delicate soils, it will be ready to twist and flip and pull itself out, like a turtle on the beach front.

Robotic techniques engineer Emily McBryan operates a test of 1 aspect of the design and style that will preserve Moon dust out of the wheel elements of the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, or VIPER, Feb. three, 2020, at NASA’s Johnson Room Middle in Houston. The whole wheel device is shrouded in a versatile, protective address that will equally insulate it from the chilly on the Moon and seal it against dust. VIPER is a cell robot that will go to the South Pole of the Moon to prospect for h2o as aspect of NASA’s Artemis method. Credits: NASA/James Blair

To make sure the dirt stays out during this dance, the VIPER workforce a short while ago analyzed 1 aspect of their mitigation system in a dust chamber at NASA’s Johnson Room Middle in Houston. The dust chamber is an open up-topped box, twenty by twenty by 34 inches, with apparent acrylic walls. Inside, there is simulated lunar soil and a robot mounted on 1 wall. Its occupation is to go a VIPER wheel module – including driving, steering and suspension elements – by way of its full assortment of movement. The whole wheel device is shrouded in a versatile, protective address that will equally insulate it from the chilly on the Moon and seal it against dust. Only the axle protrudes from this “sock”, the place the wheel will connect.

For the duration of the test, two enthusiasts circulated lunar dust within the box to produce a really tough, dusty environment. The enthusiasts were repositioned each individual hour to make sure VIPER’s wheel was uncovered to dust from each individual angle. This system authorized the workforce to carry out a stringent test, throwing even additional at their design and style than the rover could possible at any time stir up during the mission.

When the test was over and the dust had settled, it was all outside VIPER’s wheel. None of it had snuck in by way of the sock, confirming that its seams and the connections sealing the sock to the wheel hardware had labored.

And that is only the 1st line of defense against dust. Scientists at NASA’s Kennedy Room Middle in Florida are also tests the a variety of seals for the electrical motors that drive VIPER’s wheels. Just about every motor is protected by three kinds: a winding labyrinth seal, a versatile felt seal and a spring-loaded Teflon seal. The rover will be equipped with heaters to preserve the extremities of the technique warmer than minus 112 degrees Fahrenheit, even when the lunar environment receives considerably colder. The exams at Kennedy will validate the seals’ efficiency soon after they access this low and warm back up to their usual operating temperature of about minus forty degrees Fahrenheit. For this, a prototype of VIPER’s wheel motor will be operated inside of another test chamber, 1 that simulates multiple situations the rover will practical experience on the Moon, including exposure to the vacuum of area, excessive temperatures and, of training course, all that dust.

VIPER is a collaboration within and past the company. NASA’s Ames Study Middle in Silicon Valley is taking care of the job, leading the mission’s science, techniques engineering, true-time rover floor operations and flight software. The hardware for the rover is currently being intended and created by NASA’s Johnson Room Middle in Houston, when the devices are provided by Ames, NASA’s Kennedy Room Middle in Florida, and professional associate, Honeybee Robotics in California. The spacecraft, lander and rocket that will provide VIPER to the floor of the Moon will be provided by way of NASA’s Business Lunar Payload Providers initiative, providing science and know-how payloads to the floor of the Moon.

Resource: NASA

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