Scientists Examine New Methods For Powering Moon Missions
December 20, 2013

Scientists Examine New Methods For Powering Moon Missions

Lee Rannals for – Your Universe Online

A new system to produce electricity on the Moon at night would rule out the need for batteries and nuclear power sources for future lunar missions.

An international collaboration of scientists has developed a new concept for providing electricity on the Moon. A lunar night can last about 14 days, during which temperatures can reach to as lows as -238 degrees Fahrenheit. The team proposed that a system of mirrors, processed lunar soil and a heat engine will help to provide future vehicles and crew energy during the long lunar night.

The harsh conditions the Moon provides make it hard for vehicles to move and equipment to keep functioning on the lunar surface. Previously, space agencies have had to rely on heavy batteries or the use of nuclear energy to keep their missions rolling.

The researchers have studied two options for storing energy on the Moon during the day for use at night. They wrote about their findings in the journal Acta Astronautica.

"The first system consists of modifying fragments of regolith or lunar soil, incorporating elements such as aluminum, for example, such that it becomes a thermal mass," Ricard Gonzalez-Cinca, a physics researcher at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia and co-author of the study, said in a statement. "When the Sun's rays hit the surface, a system of mirrors reflects the light to heat the thermal mass, which later can transmit heat during the night to rovers and other lunar equipment.”

The other system is similar, but it incorporates a series of mirrors and a heat engine. The mirrors are Fresnel reflectors that concentrate solar rays upon a fluid-filled tube. This heat converts the liquid into a gas, which in turn heats the thermal mass. After this, the heat is transferred to a Stirling engine to produce electricity.

"This system is better equipped than the previous model for lunar projects with greater energy needs, such as a manned mission spending the night on the Moon," Gonzalez-Cinca said in a statement.

NASA was the first and only space agency to land a man on the Moon, and recently other international agencies have expressed interest in making this long journey as well. Roskosmos, the Russian space agency, said last year it will begin testing launches of manned spacecrafts in 2015 in an attempt to head to the Moon.

China has also expressed its interest in sending one of its citizens to step foot on the lunar surface. The space agency became the third country to land on the Moon earlier this month when its Chang’e 3 spacecraft made a successful soft landing. This mission included the Yutu rover, which is powered by nuclear energy.