In less than three years, astronauts will return to the moon for the first time since the Apollo era. Under the Artemis program, the goal is not only to return crewed missions to the lunar surface to explore and collect samples.
This time around, there is also the objective of establishing vital infrastructure (such as the Moon Gate and a base camp) that will allow “sustained lunar exploration”.
A key requirement for this ambitious plan is the supply of electricity, which can be difficult in areas like the South Pole-Aitken Basin – a cratered region that is permanently shaded.
To solve this problem, a researcher at the NASA Langley Research Center named Charles Taylor came up with a new concept known as the “Light Bender.” Using the telescope’s optics, this system would capture and distribute sunlight on the Moon.
The Light Bender concept was one of 16 proposals selected for Phase I of NASA’s 2021 Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program, overseen by NASA’s Space Technology Missions Directorate (STMD).
As with previous NIAC submissions, the proposals that were selected represent a wide range of innovative ideas that could help advance NASA’s space exploration goals.
In this case, the Light Bender proposal meets the needs of the astronauts who will be part of the Artemis missions and the “long-term human presence of the lunar surface” that will follow.
Taylor’s concept design was inspired by the heliostat, a device that adjusts to compensate for the apparent movement of the sun across the sky so that it continues to reflect sunlight back to a target.
In the case of the Light Bender, the optics of the Cassegrain telescope are used to capture, focus and focus sunlight while a Fresnel lens is used to align the light beams for distribution to multiple sources located at distances of 1 kilometer (0.62 miles) or more. This light is then received by photovoltaic panels measuring 2 to 4 meters (~ 6.5 to 13 feet) in diameter which convert sunlight into electricity.
In addition to habitats, the Light Bender is able to supply power to cryo-cooling units and mobile equipment such as rovers.
This type of network could also play an important role in creating vital infrastructure by powering in situ resource use (ISRU) elements, such as vehicles harvesting local regolith for use in printer modules. 3D (who will use it to build surface structures).
As Taylor described in his NIAC Phase I proposal statement: “This concept is superior to alternatives such as the highly inefficient laser beam, because it only converts light to electricity once, and traditional power distribution systems that rely on massive cables. The value Light Bender’s proposition is a mass reduction of about 5x compared to traditional technological solutions such as laser beam or a distribution network based on high voltage power cables. “
But perhaps the greatest appeal of such a system is how it can distribute power systems to the permanently shaded craters on the Moon’s surface, which are common in the Moon’s south polar region.
In the coming years, several space agencies – including NASA, ESA, Roscomos and the Chinese National Space Agency (CNSA) – hope to establish long-term habitats in the region due to the presence of water ice. and other resources.
The level of power delivered by the system is also comparable to the Kilopower Concept, a proposed fission nuclear power system designed to allow long stays on the Moon and other bodies.
This system would provide a power capacity of 10 electric kilowatts (kWe) – the equivalent of one thousand watts of electric capacity.
“In the initial design, the main mirror captures the equivalent of almost 48 kWe of sunlight,” writes Taylor. “The electrical power of the end user depends on the distance from the main collection point, but analyzes at the rear of the envelope suggest that at least 9 kWe of continuous power will be available within a radius of 1 km . “
On top of all this, Taylor points out that the total amount of energy the system can generate is scalable.
Basically it can be increased by simply changing the size of the main collecting element, the size of the receiving elements, the distance between nodes, or simply by increasing the total number of sunlight collectors on the surface. As time passes and more infrastructure is added to a region, the system can be scaled to accommodate.
As with all of the proposals that were selected for Phase I of the CANI 2021 program, Taylor’s Concept will receive a grant from NASA of up to $ 125,000.
All Phase I fellows are now in an initial nine-month feasibility study period, during which designers will assess various aspects of their designs and address foreseeable issues that could impact operations on concepts. once they are mined in the South Pole-Aitken basin.
In particular, Taylor will focus on how the optical lens could be improved based on different designs, materials and coatings that would result in acceptable levels of light propagation.
It will also assess how the lens could be designed so that it can deploy autonomously once it reaches the lunar surface. Possible methods of autonomous deployment are for further study.
Following the design / feasibility study, an evaluation of architectural alternatives for Light Bender will be carried out in the context of a lunar base located near the south pole of the moon during sustained lunar surface operations.
The main figure of merit will be the minimization of the landing mass. Comparisons will be made with known energy distribution technologies such as cables and laser beam.
Once these feasibility studies are completed, Light Bender Fellows and other Phase I Fellows will be able to apply for Phase II Fellowships. Said Jenn Gustetic, the director of innovations and early-stage partnerships within the NASA Space Technology Missions Directorate (STMD):
“CANI fellows are known to dream big, delivering technologies that may seem bordering on science fiction and that are different from research funded by other agency programs. We don’t expect them all to come to fruition, but recognize that providing a small amount of seed – early research funding could greatly benefit NASA in the long run. “
This article was originally published by Universe Today. Read the original article.