How Dust Could Affect Your Google X Prize Lunar Rover
July 2, 2013

How Dust Could Affect Your Google X Prize Lunar Rover

Lee Rannals for -- Your Universe Online

A French team of scientists have modeled how rovers traveling across the surface of the Moon might be affected by dust.

Professor Farideh Honary of the University of Lancaster presented research at the RAS National Astronomy Meeting in St. Andrews about how dust found on the moon's surface could impact the next generation of lunar rovers. He presented a study of the simulated motion of lunar dust near a rover. These simulations were made for two different lunar regions, including the boundary between night and day and the area experiencing full daylight.

Under the simulations, the rover vehicle was modeled as a 10x5x6.5 foot rectangular box located in the middle of the simulation domain. Honary and colleagues simulated an area of the Moon that was 100 feet long by 100 feet wide. Dust particles were introduced into the simulation over a period of time, when both the surface and the rover were at electrical equilibrium.

During the tests, dust particles traveled upwards above the height of the rover. These results suggest that they move in different directions. On the full daylight side, the particles are pushed outwards, while on the night and day side the simulation began with a region void of dust that was later filled by dust particles.

According to Honary, the results suggest that a rover might collect a significant quantity of dust over time, which would happen more quickly around the sunrise and sunset regions.

"On most of the lunar surface a rover would experience roughly 14 days of sunlight followed by 14 days of darkness, so the transition between the two would last a long time by terrestrial standard," Honary said in a press statement. "Engineers really do need to think about this -- one solution might be to build a dome-shaped rover so the dust simply falls to the ground."

Engineers working on the $20 million Google Lunar X Prize might take this study into account when designing their prototypes. Astrobotic Technology Inc recently released a full size prototype of its Polaris lunar rover, which is scheduled to launch using a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. This rover is in the running for the $20 million prize, which is offered to the first privately-funded team to safely land a robot on the lunar surface. The winning team's rover must send back video, images and data to Earth.