Manufacturing Bits: May 4

Measuring Moon dust; space manufacturing; China’s space station.


Measuring Moon dust
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and others have developed a new way to study and measure moon dust.

Using an X-ray nano computed tomography (XCT) technique, researchers measured the 3D shapes of lunar particles as small as 400nm in length. The goal is to find out how these shapes impact the optical scattering characteristics of lunar dust on the Moon.

These measurements could provide more insights in terms of the Moon and its color and brightness. “This in turn might help improve tracking of weather patterns and other phenomena by satellite cameras that use the Moon as a calibration source,” according to NIST.

Besides NIST, researchers in this effort included the Air Force Research Laboratory, the Space Science Institute, and the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

In this experiment, researchers developed a method of measuring the exact 3D shapes of 25 particles of moon dust collected during the Apollo 11 mission in 1969. Using XCT, researchers developed X-ray images of the samples. The samples were reconstructed by software into slices, which were then converted into 3D images.

The goal is to measure and analyze how the dust particle shapes scatter light. Researchers are interested in a feature called albedo. Albedo indicates how well a surface reflects solar energy.

“This is our first look at the influence of actual shapes of lunar particles on light scattering and focuses on some fundamental particle properties,” said Jay Goguen of the Space Science Institute. “The models developed here form the basis of future calculations that could model observations of the spectrum, brightness, and polarization of the moon’s surface and how those observed quantities change during the moon’s phases.”

Manufacturing in space
The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), manager of the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory, is soliciting proposals from outside vendors for two in-space research projects.

The two in-space research projects on the ISS National Laboratory are: 1) advanced manufacturing and materials; and 2) tissue engineering and biomanufacturing.

Advancing in-space production onboard the space station has been identified as a strategic priority for NASA and the ISS. The ISS serves as a research lab for companies, government agencies and universities. For some time, astronauts on the ISS have conducted a plethora of experiments at the orbiting lab for various organizations.

On one front, CASIS seeks proposals in the following areas: in-space thin-layer deposition, in-space crystal growth, and in-space metallurgical development. On another front, CASIS seeks proposals in the areas of in-space regenerative medicine, including stem cells, organoid or multicellular systems, and biofabrication of tissues.

In a separate development, the European Space Agency (ESA) has developed a radio-frequency test facility, enabling the measurements of antenna systems in harsh operating conditions in space.

The facility, called the Low-temperature Near-field Terahertz Chamber or Lorentz, is used to test antenna systems in vacuum conditions with thermal extremes. The facility will test a radiometer in an upcoming mission, which will probe the thin atmospheres of Jupiter’s largest moons.

This mission, called JUICE (JUpiter ICy moons Explorer), is a spacecraft that is planned for launch in 2022 and will supposedly arrive at Jupiter in 2029. It will spend at least three years making observations of Jupiter and three of its largest moons — Ganymede, Callisto, and Europa.

Located in the Netherlands, Lorentz can test high-frequency RF systems. This includes stand-alone antennas and complete radiometers between 50GHz to 1250GHz in a vacuum. It can test systems in temperatures just 90 degrees above absolute zero up to 120 °C.

The facility consists of a 2.8-meter diameter stainless steel vacuum chamber. The system can be rotated during testing. Liquid nitrogen can be pumped into the inner lining of the vacuum chamber, which will chill the system to low temperatures. On the flip side, gaseous nitrogen can increase the temperature in the system.

“There is nothing else like this in the world,” said ESA antenna engineer Luis Rolo. “It enables a whole new capability in RF antenna testing. The reason we need it is because key RF variables such as focal length and precision alignment are influenced by materials shrinking with cold or swelling with heat. Accordingly standard room-temperature testing is not representative in such conditions — to all intents and purpose they almost become like different instruments. This became obvious as long ago as the 2009 Planck mission, which operated at cryogenic temperatures to pick up microwave traces of the Big Bang.”

ESA antenna engineer Paul Moseley added: “But while the need for such a facility is clear, designing, building, and finishing Lorentz has proved extremely challenging. This is because while one side of the chamber reaches very high or low temperatures, the other side must stay at room temperature. The scanner acquiring RF signal power and field patterns has to be kept at steady environmental conditions to ensure reliable, cross-comparable data.”

China’s space station
The Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) launched the first core capsule for their new space station on April 29, 2021. This marks the start of an ambitious project by China to create the world’s most sophisticated space-based facility.

The space station, named Tiangong, which translates to Heavenly Palace, is planned to be made of three components: the core module that was launched on Thursday and two space laboratories, which will be sent up next year. Tiangong is expected to be operational by the end of 2022 and will work for 15 years, according to mission planners at CNSA. It will be manned by three astronauts at a time and host scientific experiments in areas such as biology, medical, and materials research.

The CNSA has signed an agreement with the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs to make Tiangong an internationally collaborative research facility. Scientists around the world are invited to submit research proposal for experiments, and 17 countries have already confirmed participation in future scientific endeavors onboard the Chinese space station.

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