Researchers have begun developing a spacesuit designed for walking on the Moon that can repel lunar dust.
Lunar dust potentially poses serious risks to both astronauts and their equipment on the Moon’s surface. According to Nasa, it is composed of fine crushed rock – an abrasive substance that can damage lunar landers and human lungs if inhaled, as well as interfere with instruments and mechanisms.
Lunar dust even causes radiators to overheat and can destroy spacesuits. On the Sun-facing side of the Moon, it also carries solar radiation that makes it cling to everything, compounding its potential risks.
Nasa’s Artemis programme aims to land the first woman and first person of colour on the Moon by 2029, marking a return to lunar exploration more than 50 years on from the previous trip.
Researchers at Hawai’i Pacific University (HPU) have been given a $50,000 grant from Nasa to build a ‘Liquid Metal Electrostatic Protective Textile’ (LiqMEST) that will actively repel lunar dust on demand while also being flexible and stretchable.
Team leader, HPU assistant professor Arif Rahman, said: “During my research career, I have worked with liquid metals like gallium alloys, which have the unique capability to be turned on and off, allowing them to appear and disappear based on specific conditions. I am well-acquainted with these dynamic properties.
“So, when I learned that NASA has a problem with lunar dust sticking to the surfaces and posing a significant threat to the equipment and to the astronauts, it occurred to me that liquid metals might offer a potential avenue for developing an electrostatic or electrodynamic shield to mitigate these issues with lunar dust.”
The technology used in the grant proposes using electrostatic forces to repel lunar dust, serving as an outer layer for Nasa’s spacesuits.
“The technology is designed to be stretchable, and when activated, it generates an electric field that repels lunar dust, preventing the dust from adhering to the LiqMEST fabric. This strategy can be applied both to spacesuits and fabric covers for lunar equipment during Moon missions,” Rahman added.
The team hopes to create a prototype next year before submitting a full grant proposal to Nasa to make the material ready for space use. The technology also has potential applications in future Nasa missions, such as exploring extra-terrestrial landscapes like Mars, the researchers said.
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