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Tribology and Space Mechanisms - Lunar Dust Mitigation Technologies
Research Objectives
  • Identify dust contamination issues for dynamic mechanical components and mechanisms by conducting endurance tests on dust contaminated mechanism & drive system components
  • Investigate and develop mechanism risk mitigation technologies for near term lunar missions.
Technical Challenges
  • Mechanisms used during Apollo missions on the lunar surface (lunar rover, EVA systems) only required to last 1 mission (4 days).
  • Limited state-of-the-art information is available on mechanical components exposed to the lunar environment.
  • Components (bearings, gears, seals) must be robust enough to perform continuously during long duration (5-10 years) lunar missions and between manned missions.
  • Based on experience with mechanisms during Apollo lunar surface missions, there is a high probability of performance degradation of critical dynamic mechanical systems during long duration lunar missions.
  • Dust tolerant mechanisms in critical mechanical systems will minimize system maintenance and improve reliability.
Current Research
Completed the document, “Test Plan and Procedures for Dust Contamination Investigations of Gears.” This document outlines tests planned to identify lunar dust contamination issues for geared systems, in addition to investigating risk mitigation technologies for near term lunar missions. Two types of tests will be performed. One test matrix will focus on dust contamination investigations. Tests will be performed on drive system components with various levels of dust contamination in the lubricant to identify potential wear acceleration trends as compared to “clean” grease. In addition, dust mitigation tests will be performed to assess the performance of technologies to either prevent dust from contaminating a system or minimizing its effect. These tests will focus on identifying the amount of dust that can be kept out of the geared system using a commercial rotating seal.

Lunar dust endurance test
Above: Endurance tests conducted on mechanisms with various levels of dust-contamination.

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Last Updated: July 13, 2009