Return to the Moon: ISAE-SUPAERO researchers are also working there

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Anticipating not only the return of man to the Moon but also his long-term presence, ISAE-SUPAERO researchers are carrying out work on the organization of lunar life systems, the optimization of available resources in- situ and the pollution generated by these missions.

The Moon before Mars

The conquest of Mars may be cool in the media, but the return to the Moon must be the top priority. Even Elon Musk’s Martian ambitions involve the Moon. And for good reason, the latter is only a three-day flight away. Everyone understood this except some in France or Europe. Old concepts sometimes die hard on the Old Continent. Scheduled for November 2024, NASA’s next Artemis II lunar mission will mark the return of manned missions to the Moon. This leads “to rethink space missions taking into account new challenges: reliability of inhabited space bases, presence of crews over the long term, cohabitation of space systems or pollution generated by these missions”, underlines ISAE-SUPAERO whose researchers are already working on several themes.

Anticipating the potential effects of a meteorite impact on the surface of the Moon

The Moon is a hostile environment and we must be able to assess the danger of meteorite micro-impacts for future lunar habitats. Seismology research is being carried out around the development of instruments aimed at probing the vibrations of the lunar soil but also the first meters under the surface of the Moon”, says ISAE-SUPAERO which specifies: “the Space Systems research group for Planetology and its Applications is particularly involved in the renewal of lunar seismology through the instrumental suite “Farside Seismic Suite” (FSS), provided by JPL/NASA, which will deploy sensors on the far side of the Moon. by 2025. The research group of which Raphaël Garcia is a part is also involved in the “Lunar Quake Service” which will be responsible for detecting earthquakes and meteorite impacts using the data collected and will also carry out imaging of the interior of the Moon from this data. Seismologists are working to ensure that such instruments can be installed by future lunar astronauts, but also by future ESA robotic missions for which a near-surface survey instrument (LASSIE – LunAr SeiSmIc Experiment) was recently pre-selected. “.

Preparing for a lasting presence on the Moon

Research is also being carried out “in order to one day allow a permanent presence on the Moon. Among the points hindering a long-term presence, the question of radiation is the subject of a thesis from the ISAE- SUPAERO, studying the different possible protection solutions. Funded by the European Space Agency (ESA) and TRAD Tests & Radiations, in cooperation with INSERM, Yulia Akisheva studies as part of her thesis – directed by Yves Gourinat – the capacity of materials available on lunar soil to protect astronauts from cosmic rays. Regolith in particular has been identified as a preferred resource for the construction of cockpit coverings capable of protecting against radiation. Other types of materials, metals or liquids, particularly rich in hydrogen are also studied. This research work aims, through different simulations, to understand how radioactive particles are deposited and to evaluate the doses ingested by the body in order to measure the effectiveness of the materials studied in terms of protection . A particle accelerator simulation will take place in early 2024 to test the prototypes resulting from this research as close as possible to real conditions.

The environmental impact of lunar missions

“Beyond the safety of the crews, there is also the question of the environmental impact” of space and lunar missions, and “in particular that of the management of space objects in cislunar space”, underlines ISAE-SUPAERO which recalls that there is “today no system for tracking and monitoring debris in lunar orbit. However, the multiplication of lunar missions could quickly lead to heavy pollution, especially since natural cleaning is to be excluded, the atmosphere near the Moon being too thin to allow it. It is around this problem that Paolo Guardabasso’s thesis funded by ESA and Thalès Alenia Space and directed by Gregoire Casalis and Stéphanie Lizy-Destrez focuses. This work leads him to simulate the environment of lunar and cislunar debris, based on different scenarios of future lunar traffic.

A “Space Garage” among the research axes

“Among the proposed axes, a first option consists of identifying areas on the surface of the Moon, where it would be possible to impact this debris. Another concept would consist of bringing this debris back into the Earth’s atmosphere, in order to make it land by controlling their trajectory, or destroy them. The challenge is then to identify the least costly reintegration trajectories. In this sense, a study carried out for CNES on determining the orbit of debris from observation on Earth or in space has made it possible to propose efficient calculation models.

“The third alternative is similar to the concept of a “Space Garage” developed by an ISAE-SUPAERO research team to decontaminate Space. The garage aims to ensure the maintenance and recycling of these aging satellites, in order to to delay their transfer to a graveyard orbit or the launch of new objects. This concept would be part of a circular economy, aiming to extend their lifespan. A true Space recycling factory, this concept would notably make it possible to supplement satellites already in orbit with new components.

“This research work is part of the Advanced Space Concepts chair created in 2017 at the initiative of ISAE-SUPAERO, Airbus and Ariane Group. The objective is to develop the study of future space concepts under the system and architecture aspect, thanks to research and teaching projects within a Space Advanced Concepts laboratory (SACLab). The chair was renewed in 2022 for a period of 5 years. At the same time, another thesis focuses on the eco-design of an inhabited space base on the surface of the Moon which would have a light impact from an environmental point of view, in particular through the use of sustainable resources.

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