UAE's lunar dust-busting Moon mission aims to clear a path for future exploration

Lunar dust has glass-like shards that can pose a serious threat to future Moon explorers

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The UAE is working with a team of international scientists to solve one of the biggest challenges astronauts face on the Moon – lunar dust.

It was during the Apollo missions that scientists learnt how lunar dust, or regolith, was sticking to astronauts’ spacesuits, causing erosion and operational problems.

With space agencies attempting to send human beings to the Moon’s surface again, razor-sharp lunar dust remains a concern, as its electrostatically charged particles cause it to stick to nearly everything.

The UAE’s lunar mission aims to solve this issue with an experiment that will test different materials against the dust.

Called the material adhesive experiment, a variety of test samples would be attached to the Rashid rover’s wheels, when it launches to the Moon next year.

UAE leads international effort

“We have an international group of material scientists working with us and participating in this experiment,” Dr Hamad Al Marzooqi, project manager of the Emirates Lunar Mission, told The National.

“They are proposing nine to 10 materials that will be attached on different areas of the wheels. We will try to capture an image from the main camera before and after the rover drives on the surface with the material.

“We can use those images to compare how suitable this material would be for protection against lunar regolith and how it interacted with it.”

Airbus Defence and Space is one of the international groups working with the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre for the experiment.

An agreement was signed between the two last month, which would help researchers at Airbus add their chosen materials to Rashid rover’s wheels.

The tiny 10-kilogram robotic rover will be carried to space aboard Japanese lander Hakuto-R. SpaceX will launch the mission on its Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.

Nasa is working on its own next-generation spacesuits that will be worn by astronauts heading to the Moon as part of the Artemis programme.

The suits are called the Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit and would allow astronauts to be more nimble, as compared to Apollo astronauts who had to “bunny-hop”.

“Now we know that the greater danger is that the soil is composed of tiny glass-like shards, so the new suit has a suite of dust-tolerant features to prevent inhalation or contamination of the suit’s life-support system or other spacecraft,” Nasa said.

“The pressure garment is the human shaped portion of the spacesuit that enables astronaut mobility and protects their body from the external environment, including extreme temperatures, radiation, micrometeoroids, and reduced atmospheric pressure.

“Astronauts will still wear a diaper-like garment during spacewalks that is a combination of commercial products stitched together for maximum absorption. Although space explorers generally prefer to not use it, it is there in the event they need to relieve themselves during a spacewalk that can last many hours.”

The UAE’s mission to the Moon could help test out some materials before astronauts land there to measure their tolerance against the lunar regolith.

Working with foreign space agencies and companies has made the mission possible.

The French space agency is supplying two optical cameras. One would be placed on top of the rover for panoramic images of the robot’s surroundings. The other one is a rear camera that would capture photos of the regolith.

Updated: November 17, 2021, 12:59 PM