One significant challenge for astronauts who ventured to the moon during the Apollo era was controlling the fine, powdery dust that coated everything during moon missions. A team of researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder is working on a new solution to help control moon dust for future missions to Earth’s satellite. The dust of the moon is called regolith, and it has the ability to stick to all kinds of surfaces, including spacesuits, solar panels, and helmets. The dust can damage equipment.
Looking for a way to clear surfaces of the fine regolith, the team devised a method of removing the dust using an electron beam. Researchers envision a device that shoots out a concentrated stream of negatively charged, low-energy particles that are safe for the astronauts to use. In testing, the team aimed at tool at a range of dirty surfaces inside a vacuum chamber and found that the dust flew away.
Lead author Benjamin Farr said the dust jumps off the surface when hit with the beam. The team admits that they have a long way to go before astronauts can use the device to clean on the moon. However, early findings suggest the electron-beam device could be an important fixture for future moon missions and bases.
The dust on the moon’s surface is extra sticky compared to dust that might collect on bookshelves or other surfaces and homes here on earth. The reason it’s so sticky is that it’s continuously bathed in radiation from the sun giving the material an electric charge. According to one researcher, lunar dust is also very jagged and abrasive, like broken shards of glass.
The electron-beam is a promising solution because it turns the electric charge of the particles of dust into a weapon against them. The electron beam’s negative charge interacts with the regolith’s positive charge, pushing away and ejecting the dust from the surface. Currently, the team is working on ways to increase the power of their electron-beam.