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Astrobotic Commences Two NASA Contracts

Astrobotic
Credit: Astrobotic

Ibadan, 7 September, 2023. – Astrobotic have begun work on two NASA Small Business Innovation Research contracts that will further research on lunar plume-surface interactions (PSI), a key area of risk and uncertainty for lunar landing. This testing will generate valuable new data about how lunar dust stirred up by a lander’s rocket plumes will affect landing systems, onboard payloads, landing sites, and nearby surface infrastructure on upcoming missions. In addition, the first project, ‘Floatinator,’ aims to control and eliminate a significant testing variable – namely, Earth gravity – that has limited ground-based lunar PSI tests.

Astrobotic, in collaboration with Phil Metzger of the University of Central Florida, will design and build a hot-fire test apparatus capable of simulating lunar gravity. Camille Arnn, Project Management Lead for Astrobotic’s Propulsion and Test department, stated, “As different spacecraft land on the Moon and other celestial bodies, what happens to the surfaces they land on? To the spacecrafts themselves?” Arnn further stated, “To lift off successfully and repeatedly from the same point, we need to understand the effects a rocket plume will have on the vehicle and the planetary surface it approaches. We intend Floatinator to do just that.”

When explaining the project further, Travis Vazansky, Senior Project Manager for Astrobotic’s Propulsion and Test department, said, “Essentially, our existing test stand called ‘Dropinator’ drops a rocket engine in a controlled way to simulate landing and to test plume-surface interactions, such as ejecta behavior and deep cratering. This new addition, ‘Floatinator,’ will outfit the test stand with a box of regolith simulant that will drop, along with the rocket, at five-sixths the acceleration of Earth’s gravity. This calibrated downward acceleration creates an accurate reduced gravity simulation that can be tuned for the Moon, Mars, asteroids, and other celestial bodies.”

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