With the imminent return of humans and infrastructure to the Moon through Artemis, the challenges posed by lunar dust have returned to the forefront. During the Apollo missions, dust clogged chamber seals, damaged spacesuits, degraded mechanical gears, and limited the range of the lunar rover. The issue remains critical for both manned and unmanned lunar or planetary missions, where key infrastructures can be degraded over time by highly abrasive dust.
While active dust-mitigation approaches consume energy to remove dust from a surface, passive approaches typically aim to reduce surface energy to make dust less prone to sticking. In this project, a passive approach will be developed to add a nanotexture to critical components using scalable processes, thereby reducing contact area and adhesion force.
The Phase I research demonstrated a highly effective nanotexture that reduced coverage of a lunar dust simulant on a polycarbonate substrate by 93%. Fabrication of these surfaces was based on thermal embossing using metal molds created with our patented Nanocoining technology. During Phase II, Nanocoining and tangential processes including high-throughput roll-to-roll embossing will be used to create an optimized surface texture at scale in relevant space-grade materials.
In addition, a team at the UT, Austin will further develop a simulated lunar environment to study particle adhesion physics. Their goal will be to understand how texture geometries, surface energy, low-energy monolayer coatings, vacuum, and humidity affect dust mitigation and to test the surfaces’ durability to thermal, abrasive, and repeated dust loading.
Deliverables will include >1 m2 of nanotextured polycarbonate, along with batch-scale samples of textured polyimide, PET, and FEP. Further, the best-performing textures will be applied to relevant applications, including a radiator strip, visible camera optic, and solar-panel coating, for demonstration and testing.