NASA has plans to deliver small science and technology demonstration payloads to the Moon. Some of these payloads may be small robots or rovers which could explore their immediate surroundings and make scientific findings which are not possible using stationary landers. One of the most difficult thermal challenges for lunar rovers is to survive the lunar diurnal cycles. This becomes especially challenging for small rovers or robots (~ 1 to 10 Kg) which, due to scaling laws, have a high surface area to mass ratio compared to larger spacecraft. As a result, it is unlikely that a small rover would be able to survive such a cold and long lunar night on its own.
The Pop-Up Flat Folding Habitat (PUFF-Hab) is an innovation which would allow small robotic explorers and rovers to survive cold lunar nights by retreating into the PUFF-Hab when temperatures fall. The habitat is a structure covered in Multi-Layer Insulation (MLI) which uses a combination of insulation and heat stored in the lunar regolith to prevent temperatures from falling excessively inside the habitat. The ultimate goal would be to allow nighttime survival of small robotic explorers and rovers without the need for survival heating by keeping internal PUFF-Hab temperatures above -40 °C.
The PUFF-Hab would be folded flat for Earth launch and lunar landing in order to conserve volume. Once the PUFF-Hab is on the lunar surface, it deploys from the side or footpad of the base station using a small release mechanism and unfolds using springs and/or strain energy stored in the PUFF-Hab structure.
This objective of this proposal is to advance the technology readiness level (TRL) from 2 to 4, by designing a habitat which will keep internal night time temperatures above -40 °C, showing that the thermal design is robust using analytical models and sensitive studies, and demonstrating the ability of a breadboard prototype to un-fold using a single release mechanism.
The Pop-Up Flat Folding Habitat (PUFF-Hab) has applications to any NASA lunar mission which desires for small rovers (~ 1 to 10 Kg) to survive the lunar night. In addition, the innovation could be scaled up for larger rovers to help reduce or eliminate survival heating during the lunar night. The innovation also may have applications to help reduce survival heating for Martian rovers by serving as a wind breaker, even though Multi Layer Insulation (MLI) is not an effective insulator on Mars due to the presence of CO2 gas.
The Pop-Up Flat Folding Habitat (PUFF-Hab) could also benefit privately funded missions to the lunar surface or to Mars. Deployable structures are an active area of research interest in the space industry so advancements in deployable structures for this application could benefit other more general applications as well.