German scientists have demonstrated how solar energy could turn lunar dust into a glassy material to pave landing pads and roads on the Moon’s surface.
Dust is one of the main challenges faced by astronauts and spacecraft on the Moon: it erodes space suits, clogs machinery, interferes with scientific instruments and makes moving around difficult.
However, paving the lunar surface could help to address this problem.
“You might think: ‘Streets on the moon, who needs that?’” said Professor Jens Günster, a co-author of the report. “But […] it’s very loose material, there’s no atmosphere, gravity is weak, so the dust gets everywhere. It contaminates not only your equipment but other nations’. No one would be happy to be covered in dust from another rocket.”
For this reason, scientists have created a proof of concept demonstrating how lunar dust could be melted using a giant lens to create solid roads and landing areas.
The Aalen University team used a 12kW laser with a diameter of 100mm (3.93in) to heat a powder made of plagioclase, olivine and pyroxene, developed as a substitute for lunar dust. Its findings showed that, when reaching a temperature of 1200ºC, the dust compacted and turned into a black, glassy structure capable of supporting structures.
“At the end of the study, large samples (approximately 250 × 250 mm) with interlocking capabilities were fabricated by melting the lunar simulant with the laser directly on the powder bed,” the paper said.
If it could be used on-site, the strategy could prevent situations such as the damage to the Surveyor 3 spacecraft, caused by dust kicked up during the Apollo 12 landing.
Although deploying a laser on the moon to create such a road might be difficult, the researchers calculate that a 1.5m-wide lens could instead be used to focus sunlight and produce the same effect.
Interest in the Moon’s resources and its potential use as a base for future space explorations has been increasing recently. Last month, India became the fourth nation to successfully land a spacecraft on the Moon after its $75m (£59m) Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft touched ground in a previously unexplored region of the natural satellite.
The achievement took place just days after Russia’s Luna-25 spacecraft – designed to reach this location first – crashed into the Moon.
Last year, Nasa successfully launched its Artemis spacecraft as part of a mission to take humans back to the Moon. The agency has also revealed its hopes of landing humans on Mars sometime in the 2030s as part of its Moon to Mars programme.
The researchers’ findings have been published in the journal Scientific Reports.
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