• Mon. Aug 15th, 2022

NASA invests in thermal control technology for the harsh lunar environment

ByRoman Frąckiewicz

Jan 7, 2022

NASA has awarded Advanced Cooling Technologies (ACT) funds for thermal control systems that will allow vehicles and other devices to endure harsh lunar settings without the use of an active power source. The NASA Sequential Phase II SBIR Program Award, valued at $5 million, will be used to construct a “toolbox” of radiators, heat transport and other systems for the moon-bound rovers, landers and shelters, according to the Lancaster, Pennsylvania-based thermal solutions supplier.

The solutions are designed to meet the requirements of tiny, low-power vehicles which encounter considerable thermal problems due to the moon’s sluggish rotation relative to the sun. “You got 14 [Earth] days of daylight where it gets fairly hot, over 100 degrees [Celsius], and afterward 14 days of nighttime where it gets extremely cold, down to about minus 150 degrees [Celsius],” Bill Anderson, the ACT chief engineer explained.

“As a result, you’ll need something that can withstand multiple cycles.” According to Anderson, only 1 watt of electricity to operate a thermal control system “or anything else for the entire 14-day-long night” would require more than five kg of batteries and additional solar cells.

According to him, the NASA grant will allow ACT to build more cost-effective devices which passively control the heat without the use of electricity, eliminating waste heat during the day with high thermal conductance and limiting losses during the night using high thermal resistance.

Astrobotic, which is a commercial developer of the lunar landers and rovers centered in Pittsburgh, has been contracted by ACT to help affirm the thermal management technology. Following a deployment on the SpaceX Heavy rocket, Astrobotic wants to deploy the systems for its Griffin lunar lander, that seeks to deliver NASA’s Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) project close to lunar south pole in the late 2023. NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program is behind the mission.


New business opportunities

As per James Eckard, the Astrobotic technical project manager, developing cheaper and much more cost-effective solutions to address thermal difficulties on the moon minus an active heat source creates new business prospects for the space sector.

“Lunar night survival has almost always been accomplished by nuclear heating units with a strong barrier of entry,” Eckard added — or, in the situation of VIPER, intricate mission scheduling to take advantage of locations around lunar south pole which have almost constant sunshine.  The VIPER rover is planned to survive in craters close to the lunar south pole which have never seen the sun for a few days at a stretch, giving it a strong chance of locating ice that astronauts can be able to use in the future. “Another wrinkle to take into account is that thermal systems built to retain heat during the night may easily overheat during the day unless the system can be switched to reject and release heat during the day,” Eckard noted.

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