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NASA funds thermal control solutions to harsh lunar environments

NASA funds thermal control solutions to harsh lunar environments

TAMPA, Fla. NASA awarded funding to Advanced Cooling Technologies (ACT), which provides thermal control solutions that allow vehicles and other equipment, without the need for an active power source, to survive harsh lunar environments.

According to Lancaster, Pennsylvania-based thermal solutions provider, the company will use the $5 million NASA Sequential Phase II SBIR Program Award in order to develop a toolbox that includes heat transport, radiators, as well as other systems for moon-bound landings, rovers, and habitats.

These solutions are designed to address the specific needs of small, low-power vehicles. They face significant thermal challenges due to slow rotation of the lunar surface relative the sun.

There are 14 [Earth]Daytime temperatures can reach over 100 degrees on days when it is hot. [Celsius]ACT chief engineer Bill Anderson stated that there are 14 nights of night when it gets very cold, below minus 150 degrees Celsius.

It is important to have something that can withstand multiple cycles.

Anderson stated that just one watt of electricity is required to run a thermal controller system. Anderson also estimates that it will take more than five kilograms to charge additional solar cells and batteries.

He stated that NASA funding allows ACT to create more cost-effective devices that passively manage heat without using electricity. These devices reject waste heat during the day via high thermal conductance, and minimize losses at night through high thermal resistance.

ACT subcontracts Astrobotic, a commercial lunar lander and rover developer based in Pittsburgh, to validate the thermal management technology.

Astrobotic plans use the solutions to its Griffin lunar lander, which is destined to deliver NASA’s Volatiles Exploring Polar Exploration Rover mission (VIPER). Near the lunar south PoleIn the latter part of 2023, following a Launch on a SpaceX Heavy rocket. The mission is part NASAs Commercial Lunar Payload Services Program (CLPS).

New commercial opportunities

James Eckard, Astrobotic technical manager, stated that developing cost-effective and less expensive ways to address thermal challenges on the Moon without an active heat source is a key opportunity for the space sector.

In almost all historical cases, lunar survival was possible by nuclear heating units that have a high barrier to entry, Eckard stated. In the case of VIPER, complicated mission planning was used to take advantage the areas around the lunar south pole that receive almost constant sunlight.

VIPER rover is built to survive for several days in craters near the site. lunar south poleThese are the first people to see the sun and have a good chance of discovering ice that astronauts will be able to use in the future.

Eckard explained that thermal systems that keep heat in at night can heat up during hot days. If this happens, you need to switch the system to radiate heat instead.

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He stated that ACTs NASA funded work aims at answering those questions and will give valuable tools for Astrobotics rovers or landers to do what no one else can.

Eckard stated that currently there are no commercial options that can survive the full lunar day-night cycle.

He stated that by working with ACT on this, they hope to advance the technology and bring a brand new sector to market.

Astrobotic provides lunar test chambers to aid in the development of the thermal control systems for ACT.

Peregrine is Astrobotics’ first lunar lander and will be launched on the inaugural flight by United Launch Alliances Vulcan Centaur rocket Next year.

The lander is part of NASA’s CLPS program and will also carry a rover as well as scientific and commercial payloads.

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