'Moon dust' made to order

Firm here aids effort to create synthetic to test mechanisms
2010-03-23T00:00:00Z 'Moon dust' made to orderIan Friedman Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 23, 2010 12:00 am  • 

As NASA continues to work to get back to the moon, everything must be built to specifications.

Even the dust.

Tucson-based General Plasma Inc. recently received a contract from New York-based Honeybee Robotics to help create "synthetic extraterrestrial dust" (moon dust) to simulate the space environment during tests performed on space-bound equipment, said Mark George, director of research for General Plasma.

"The technology that NASA is working on requires moving parts and the dust can cause problems with friction loss and binding up components," George said.

Jason Herman, a systems engineer with New York-based Honeybee Robotics and manager of the synthetic-dust program, said the ion plasma generator General Plasma will provide will be hooked up to a vacuum chamber to create a system to make the synthetic dust.

"It helps us do the whole sample simulation inside the chamber," Herman said.

Creating synthetic dust will help researchers determine how the lunar dust will affect small mechanisms, by measuring such properties as adhesion, he said.

General Plasma's equipment will clean the dust particles of organic compounds such as oils, while creating surface defects similar to those found on moon dust, Herman said.

"The particles that compose the soil on the moon are so different than what is found here on earth that (NASA) just could not develop the equipment to deal with it," said Casey Jones, business development manager for General Plasma.

In the past, moon dust has been able to pass through NASA spacesuits and has also clogged various moon-vehicle components, Jones said.

The dust generator may also be used to test components bound for asteroids or even other planets, George said.

This technology was originally developed for use in artificial lighting, he said. General Plasma is mainly focused on producing components for use in photovoltaic cells and other energy efficient applications.

The company's plasma equipment creates a thin-film coating that can be deposited on products varying from solar cells to food wrappers, Jones said.

The moon-dust work is being performed under multiple Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants, totaling $1.5 million, Honeybee's Herman said.

Terms of the contract between Honeybee Robotics and General Plasma were not disclosed.

Contact NASA Space Grant intern Ian Friedman at 434-4083 or at ifriedman@azstarnet.com

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