New Lunar Dust and Agglutinate Simulants Developed with Nanophase Iron

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Orbital Technologies Corporation has been working with NASA since 2005 to develop improved lunar and Martian soil, or regolith, simulants. ORBITEC has successfully developed a new process to create synthetic lunar agglutinates that contain nanophase iron. These agglutinates have also been milled to create lunar dust simulants.

The ability to create agglutinate particles with nanophase iron is a major achievement

As NASA prepares to return to the Moon, one of the biggest challenges is finding a way to overcome the pervasive lunar dust. It is abrasive, clings to almost every surface, and could even be toxic to astronauts.

Orbital Technologies Corporation (ORBITEC) has been working with NASA since 2005 to develop improved lunar and Martian soil, or regolith, simulants. In the past three years, they have delivered over 59,000 pounds of lunar regolith simulant, known as JSC-1A, and Martian regolith simulant, known as JSC-Mars-1A, to engineers, scientists and educators studying mining and processing equipment, robotic vehicles, next generation space suits, habitats, human health effects, and dust mitigation.

The problem with commercially available lunar regolith simulants, including JSC-1A, is that they are missing three important components of the real lunar regolith. First, they lack "agglutinates," or small particles bonded together with glass created from micrometeoroids hitting the surface of the Moon. These agglutinates also contain small droplets of metallic iron, including "nanophase iron." Nanophase iron is not found naturally on Earth, and it can significantly change the characteristics of the regolith. Current simulant also do not contain enough of the very small particles, or lunar dust, that created many problems in the Apollo missions.

To address these shortcomings, ORBITEC has developed a new process to create agglutinates that contain nanophase iron. These agglutinates have also been milled to create lunar dust simulants.

"The ability to create agglutinate particles with nanophase iron is a major achievement," said Robert Gustafson, ORBITEC project manager for lunar agglutinate and dust simulant development. "For the first time we can mimic unique properties of the lunar regolith. This will be critical for testing any equipment or technology that has to operate in the lunar environment."

ORBITEC prototype agglutinate and dust simulants created under two NASA-funded SBIR contracts are now being evaluated by NASA scientists. As a result of these projects, ORBITEC has the ability to produce small quantities of agglutinates and dust simulants from a variety of materials and is investigating ways to scale up production to a level that will meet the future needs of the space exploration community.

People interested in learning more about this new technology are encouraged to contact ORBITEC. JSC-1A and JSC-Mars-1A simulants are available for purchase at http://www.planet-llc.com.

ABOUT ORBITEC
Now in its 20th year, ORBITEC is Wisconsin's aerospace research and product development leader. With a focus on propulsion systems, space resource utilization and controlled environments, ORBITEC has been awarded ~280 contracts exceeding a total of over $100M. The company was awarded Wisconsin's Professional Service Business of the Year (1995), and the Tibbitts Award (1996 and 1999) from the Small Business Administration for outstanding work for the U.S. Government.

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Robert Gustafson
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