Masten Space Working on Lunar Regolith Models

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Masten Space Systems will continue to work on developing reliable, high-fidelity models of lunar regolith thrown up by landing vehicles with the help of NASA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program.

The goal is to ensure reliable and safe landings for robotic and crewed spacecraft that will land on the moon under NASA’s Artemis and Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) programs.

“This work will create a physical model of entrainment mechanisms and use that to validate current landing damage models and reduce uncertainty in regolith emission models from a factor of ten uncertainty (1000%) to ~20% uncertainty,” Masten said in its project summary.

Landing vehicles carrying astronauts to the surface will be heavier than the Lunar Modules used during the Apollo program.

The space agency selected the project for a SBIR phase II award worth up to $750,000. The project previously received a smaller SBIR phase I award.

Masten is working with researchers at the University of Central Florida (UCF) on the work.

The project summary is below.

Testing Deep Cratering Physics to Inform Plume Effects Modeling
Subtopic: Lander Systems Technologies

Masten Space Systems, Inc.

Principal Investigator
Matthew Kuhns

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) :
Begin: 4
End: 5

Technical Abstract

Masten and researchers at the University of Central Florida (UCF) are modeling plume flow effects in simulated lunar and terrestrial environments to develop methods to scale between the two. This innovative work entails:

  • Development of low cost ground testing methods and facilities to produce computational fluid dynamics (CFD) model validation cases for NASA and industry use
    • Size and structure of craters on terrestrial test rig under hot rocket plume conditions.
  • Characterization of lunar surface ejecta particles during rocket powered landings and ascents.
    • Rate of mass ejection from scouring and deep craters
    • Characteristics of ejecta leaving crater (speed, particle sizes, angles)
  • Testing in low gravity, vacuum, and terrestrial conditions will be performed to determine cross calibration and scaling effects for plume effects modeling.
    • Drop tower, ambient, and vacuum engine tests
  • Investigation of scaling in the transition from low thrust scouring to high thrust deep cratering effects and allow scaling of the physics to apply Earth tests to lunar cases.
    • Determination of plume conditions define transition points
  • Determining an algorithm for use in CFD software to accurately model regolith plume effects. 
    • Masten and UCF must develop higher-order correlations that capture the actual physics and reduce them to simple algorithms that can be coded in a VOF or similar approach. These scaling relationships have not yet been solved, and currently it is impossible to gain any assurance that a model is correct.
  • Analyzing effects of different regolith simulant types and stratigraphies

Potential NASA Applications

This work will create a physical model of entrainment mechanisms and use that to validate current landing damage models and reduce uncertainty in regolith emission models from a factor of ten uncertainty (1000%) to ~20% uncertainty. The results will help ensure reliable and safe landings for NASA Artemis and NASA Commercial Lunar Payload Services, without endangering other cislunar assets. 

Potential Non-NASA Applications

Masten and UCF will provide plume testing services:

  • NASA STMD GCD Plume Surface Interaction group
  • Honeybee Robotics for PlanetVac
  • Purdue University looking at plume interaction with planetary lander structures
  • NASA Flight Opportunities customers
  • PTS Alena lunar lander
  • Made in Space for lunar landing pad development
  • PISCES landing pad
  • NASA JPL for landing assurance tests

Duration: 18 months