The ‘artificial moon dust’ that could help man live on the lunar surface and kickstart plans to mine asteroids

The ‘artificial moon dust’ that could help man live on the lunar surface and kickstart plans to mine asteroids

An asteroid mining company has produced dirt that simulates the material found on an asteroid or the moon.
The company, Deep Space Industries, recently delivered 3.5 gallons (13 liters) of the dirt to NASA.
The simulated space dirt could be used to test space technologies such as metal extraction for 3-D printing of parts, oxygen for life support, and the potential health effects of asteroid dust particles.
‘The crushed rock found on celestial bodies is called regolith and we can make regolith simulants by using a special recipe of minerals mined on Earth’ said Rob Mueller, a senior technologist with Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
HOW DO MOON ROCKS ARRIVE ON EARTH?

Lunar meteorites, or lunaites, are rocks that come from the moon.

Rocks break off from the moon when asteroids and comets strike its surface.

Meteoroids strike the moon every day but don’t always hit hard enough to cause rock to break off.

But when a meteoroid hits the moon with great force, fragments break away and are propelled away from its surface.

When the rocks escape the field of gravity shrouding the moon, they usually become captured by the gravity of the Earth or sun.

Rocks can orbit the Earth and sun for thousands or even millions of years before they eventually fall to Earth.

‘This will help researchers perform experiments and conduct equipment testing for potential mining of useful resources in space.
‘Private industry is helping NASA in this effort.’
Deep Space Industries (DSI) proposed the development of the asteroid stimulant in response to NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program 2015 call for proposals.
The company developed a range of asteroid stimulants for government and commercial use, and their delivery to Kennedy Space Center is their first batch to be used by researchers.
To make the artificial regolith, DSI had to analyze the mineral composition of meteorites – the only material present in significant amounts on Earth that originated from other planetary bodies (apart from the lunar rocks brought back during the Apollo program).
Once they analyzed the meteorites, they found rocks with similar mineral contents on Earth and ground them down into powders.
DSI researchers then mixed the powders in proper proportions to stimulate the mineral composition of specific types of asteroids.

The company also worked with faculty and students at the University of Central Florida to test and verify the physical properties of the artificial meteorite regolith.
‘The NASA SBIR program is interested in helping industry grow into new research areas,’ said Mike Vinje, who leads SBIR activities at Kennedy Space Center.
‘We look at this asteroid simulant from Deep Space Industries as a potentially enabling technology.’
The artificial regolith could help NASA researchers convert materials found in space into usable supplies for use in space – such fuel, oxidizer for fuel, water, air, building materials and even spare parts.
NASA researchers will use the regolith to to develop space technologies for future missions where local resources can be used instead of transporting resources from Earth.
Some of the potential applications that may benefit from using the artificial regolith include excavation technologies, sample collection for resource prospecting, granular material handling in microgravity, thermal processing of regolith to extract volatiles like water and carbon dioxide, oxygen for life support, space suit development and other materials.
To make the artificial regolith, Deep Space Industries had to analyze the mineral composition of meteorites – the only material present in significant amounts on Earth that originated from other planetary bodies (apart from the lunar rocks brought back during the Apollo program). Pictured is an asteroid known as Vesta
To make the artificial regolith, Deep Space Industries had to analyze the mineral composition of meteorites – the only material present in significant amounts on Earth that originated from other planetary bodies (apart from the lunar rocks brought back during the Apollo program). Pictured is an asteroid known as Vesta
While the group of companies capable of developing these ISRU technologies is small, the customer base is growing.
For example, United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and The Boeing Company formed in 2006 to provide cost-efficient access to space for government missions, recently announded a long-term plan that includes ISRU-derived fuels for its Advanced Cryogenic Evolved Stage booster concept – a liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen upper stage rocket for use on the Vulcan space launch vehicle.

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