NASA Funds R&D Projects for Lunar Construction Technology

Astronaut working on the moon (Credit: NASA)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

As NASA prepares to send astronauts back to the moon, the spaced agency is funding a series of research and development (R&D) projects focused on turning lunar regolith into landing pads, blast shields and other useful structures.

NASA recently selected four R&D projects for funding under its Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR)  program. The projects, which partner small businesses with academia, will each receive up to $150,000 apiece for studies lasting 13 months.

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Washington State University Conquers Lunar Dust with BIG Idea Dust Mitigation Concept

Credit: NASA

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — Dust on Earth creates a nuisance in our homes and causes a few allergic sneezes. It might seem benign, but mitigating Earth’s dust has been the focus of extensive terrestrial engineering with applications from mining to food to cosmetics. On the Moon, dust creates a unique set of challenges – which will require new technology to overcome and ensure space exploration system reliability and astronaut safety. While Earth-based mitigation strategies could be foundational for lunar dust solutions, extraterrestrial dust has unique attributes that require innovative solutions.

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Mitigating Lunar Dust: Masten Completes FAST Landing Pad Study

A spacecraft creates its own landing pad using the in-Flight Alumina Spray Technique system. (Credit: Masten Space Systems)

MOJAVE, Calif. (Masten Space Systems PR) — Landing on the Moon (and staying on the Moon) is no easy task. The lunar surface has limited sunlight, extremely cold temperatures, and lots and lots of dust (a.k.a. lunar regolith). But the good news is, Masten is up for the challenge!

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NASA Technologies Slated for Testing on Blue Origin’s New Shepard

New Shepard launch (Credit: Blue Origin webcast)

By Elizabeth DiVito
NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program

VAN HORN, Texas — While there won’t be humans on Blue Origin’s 17th New Shepard mission, the fully reusable launch vehicle will carry technologies from NASA, industry, and academia aboard. The agency’s Flight Opportunities program supports six payload flight tests, which are slated for lift off no earlier than Aug. 26 from the company’s Launch Site One in West Texas.

For some innovations, this is just one of several tests supported by NASA on different flight vehicles. Iterative flight testing helps quickly ready technologies that could eventually support deep space exploration.

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NASA’s ELaNa 20 Mission First to Fly on Virgin Orbit Launch

Virgin Orbit teammates complete a dry run of the payload encapsulation process in Aug. 2020 inside their “Nebula” payload processing facility ahead of the company’s Launch Demo 2 mission. (Credits: Virgin Orbit/Greg Robinson)

By Danielle Sempsrott 
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

MOJAVE, Calif. — Ten NASA-sponsored CubeSats are preparing to fly on the agency’s next Educational Launch of Nanosatellites  (ELaNa) mission, making this the first payload carried by Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket.

With the small satellites safely secured inside the payload fairing, and the fairing mated to the rocket, Virgin Orbit is gearing up for ELaNa 20, the Launch Demo 2 flight from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California.

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NSF Statement on Collapse of Arecibo Observatory

Damage sustained at the Arecibo Observatory 305-meter telescope. (Credit: UCF)

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (NSF PR) — The instrument platform of the 305-meter telescope at Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico fell at approximately 7:55 a.m. Atlantic Standard Time Dec. 1, resulting in damage to the dish and surrounding facilities.

No injuries were reported as a result of the collapse. The U.S. National Science Foundation ordered the area around the telescope to be cleared of unauthorized personnel since the failure of a cable Nov. 6. Local authorities will keep the area cordoned off as engineers work to assess the stability of the observatory’s other structures.

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Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico Collapses

The UCF-managed Arecibo Observatory in the spring of 2019. (Credit: University of Central Florida)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The elevated instrument platform of the 305 meter (1,000 foot) telescope at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico collapsed overnight, crashing into the dish below and adding to the gloom over the previous decision to decommission the iconic facility.

In a tweet, the National Science Foundation (NSF) said there were no injuries reported in the collapse.

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NSF to Decommission Arecibo Observatory’s 305-meter Telescope Due to Safety Concerns

The main collecting dish is among the world’s largest single-dish radio telescopes. The reflective dish is 1,000 feet in diameter, 167 feet deep, and covers an area of about 20 acres. (Credit: UCF)

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (NSF PR) — Following a review of engineering assessments that found damage to the Arecibo Observatory cannot be stabilized without risk to construction workers and staff at the facility, the U.S. National Science Foundation will begin plans to decommission the 305-meter telescope, which for 57 years has served as a world-class resource for radio astronomy, planetary, solar system and geospace research.

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The Perils and Promise of Dust on the Moon

Xodiac (Credit: Masten Space Systems)

by Nicole Quenelle
NASA’s Flight Opportunities program

MOJAVE, Calif. (NASA PR) — Think your home could use a bit of a sweep? Fret not – your hardwoods are nothing compared to the Moon. Its surface is so notoriously dusty that the desert here on Earth is the environment of choice for testing dust-related technologies bound for lunar missions.

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A Second Cable Fails at NSF’s Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico

The UCF-managed Arecibo Observatory in the spring of 2019. (Credit: University of Central Florida)

Engineers are reviewing the new damage and assessing how to best stabilize the facility.

by Zenaida Gonzalez Kotala
University of Central Florida News

A main cable that supports the Arecibo Observatory broke Friday at 7:39 p.m. Puerto Rico time.

Unlike the auxiliary cable that failed at the same facility on Aug. 10, this main cable did not slip out of its socket. It broke and fell onto the reflector dish below, causing additional damage to the dish and other nearby cables. Both cables were connected to the same support tower. No one was hurt, and engineers are already working to determine the best way to stabilize the structure.

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NASA Selects 31 Promising Space Technologies for Commercial Flight Tests

by Nicole Quenelle
NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program

NASA has selected 31 promising space technologies for testing aboard parabolic aircraft, high-altitude balloons, and suborbital rocket-powered systems. By exposing the innovations to many of the rigors and characteristics of spaceflight – without the expense of an orbital flight – NASA can help ensure these technologies work correctly when they are deployed on future missions.

“By supporting suborbital flight testing, our Flight Opportunities  program aims to help ensure that these innovations are well-positioned to address challenges and enable NASA to achieve its lunar ambitions, while also contributing to a growing and vibrant commercial space industry,” said Jim Reuter, associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD). The Flight Opportunities program is part of STMD.

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Broken Cable Damages Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico

The main collecting dish is among the world’s largest single-dish radio telescopes. The reflective dish is 1,000 feet in diameter, 167 feet deep, and covers an area of about 20 acres. (Credit: UCF)

ARECIBO, PR (University of Central Florida PR) — One of the auxiliary cables that helps support a metal platform in place above the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, broke on Monday (Aug. 10) causing a 100-foot-long gash on the telescope’s reflector dish. Operations at the UCF-managed observatory are stopped until repairs can be made.

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Using Tethers to Protect Earth from Asteroid Impacts

These photos show the relative size of three asteroids that have been imaged at close range by spacecraft. Mathilde (37 x 29 miles) (left) was taken by the NEAR spacecraft on June 27, 1997. Images of the asteroids Gaspra (middle) and Ida (right) were taken by the Galileo spacecraft in 1991 and 1993, respectively. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/NEAR and Galileo missions

NEW YORK (Springer PR) — Our planet exists within the vicinity of thousands of Near-Earth Objects (NEOs), some of which — Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs) — carry the risk of impacting Earth causing major damage to infrastructure and loss of life. Methods to mitigate such a collision are highly desirable.

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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.

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NIAC Award — Aqua Factorem: Ultra Low-Energy Lunar Water Extraction

Graphic depicting the Aqua Factorem: Ultra Low-Energy Lunar Water Extraction concept. (Credits: Philip Metzger)

NASA Innovative Advance Concept (NIAC)
Phase I Award
Amount: $125,000

Aqua Factorem: Ultra Low-Energy Lunar Water Extraction

Philip Metzger
University of Central Florida

We propose a new method we call Aqua Factorem to extract lunar water. It will drastically reduce energy and complexity of lunar mining operations helping to establish this industry.

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