MSFC developing a moon garage for lunar rovers

by Chris Bergin

Engineers at the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC), along with engineering professors at Auburn University, Alabama, have assembled a prototype concept that NASA astronauts could use to construct a garage on the moon – giving them a safe place to park their lunar rovers.

The shelter, made from bulletproof bags filled with lunar regolith, would protect the rovers from meteoroid strikes, radiation damage and extreme temperature swings.

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The bags, made from a woven polymer such as Kevlar, would be stacked like sand bags into an arch, which would protect the rovers and other vital equipment when astronauts return to the moon at the end of the next decade, a return that will see the construction of a moon base.

A prototype shelter/garage was assembled in Building 4493, the Space Systems Integration and Test Facility at MSFC.

‘The shelter seemed to stand up to the testing very well,’ said Carole McLemore, project manager for Marshall’s In Situ Fabrication and Repair/In Situ Resource Utilization Office, to the MSFC Star. ‘We are pleased to work with Auburn University on such an exciting endeavor.’

Dr. Roy Broughton and Dr. David Beale of Auburn University and Gweneth Smithers, an engineer in Marshall’s Nonmetals Engineering Branch of the Engineering Directorate, analyzed a number of polymer materials such as Vectran, Nextel and Goretex for their structural properties and strength under extreme temperatures.

‘Strips of the polymer samples were exposed to both ultraviolet and electron radiation in the Marshall Combined Environmental Effects Facility – a lab that uses a solar simulator to test the samples,’ noted the MSFC information.

‘Marshall’s Micro Light Gas Gun was used in the tests to simulate meteoroid impact on fully loaded bags of regolith. The tool shoots 1-millimeter-diameter particles at speeds around 7 kilometers per second, or 15,600 mph.’

A full-scale prototype arch – also assembled in Building 4493 – was built for ‘proof-of concept’ evaluations. Kevlar fabric was sewn into the bags, which were then filled with vermiculite – a type of potting soil that holds water very well and is neither acidic nor alkaline – to simulate a variety of soil sizes, similar to soil on the moon.

Tests will continue, as the template for setting up a permanent home on the moon continues to take shape, ahead of the first major Mars plans, which are expected later this year.

In other Constellation news, Kennedy Space Center’s MPPF (Multi Payload Processing Facility) has been selected as the location to perform Orion fueling operations, after the replacement vehicle for the shuttle is assembled and checked out at KSC’s Operations and Checkout (O&C) building.

The MPPF was designed and built to handle hypergolic propellants, and is already configured to handle MMH (monomethyl hydrazine). The only addition to the facility will be the handling of N2O4 (nitrogen tetroxide).

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