Madrid, 28 (European Press)
Engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are testing a new concept for a floating rover that takes advantage of the moon’s natural electric charge or asteroids.
Because they lack an atmosphere, the Moon and other airless bodies, such as asteroids, can build an electric field through direct exposure to the sun and surrounding plasma. On the Moon, this surface charge is strong enough to lift dust more than 1 meter above the Earth’s surface, just like the static electricity that makes a person’s hair eventually stand up.
NASA engineers and others recently proposed harnessing this natural surface charge to levitate a glider with wings made of mylar, a material that naturally carries the same charge as the surfaces of airless objects. They believe similarly loaded surfaces should repel, with a force that lifts the glider off the ground. But such a design would likely be limited to small asteroids, since larger planetary bodies would have a stronger gravitational pull.
The MIT team rover can conquer this particular size. Resembling a disk-shaped flying saucer, the concept uses small beams of ions to charge the vehicle and supercharge the surface’s natural charge. The overall effect is designed to generate a relatively large repulsion force between the vehicle and the ground, in a way that requires very little power. In a preliminary feasibility study, researchers show that such an ion thruster would have to be strong enough to lift a small craft weighing 0.9 kilograms on the Moon and large asteroids like Psyche.
“We thought about using this like the Hayabusa missions launched by the Japan Space Agency,” lead author Oliver Jia Richards, a graduate student in the MIT Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, said in a statement. “This spacecraft worked around a small asteroid and deployed small vehicles on its surface. Likewise, we believe that a future mission could send small floating vehicles to explore the surface of the moon and other asteroids.”
The team’s findings appear in the current issue of the Journal of Spacecraft and Rockets.
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