Nasa Selects San Antonio Firm to Help Build Lunar Landing Pad With Moon Dust

San Antonio

NASA’s ambitious goal of landing an astronaut on Mars by the late 2030s requires essential groundwork, including establishing a lunar base as an intermediate step. A crucial component for this lunar base is a landing pad, and that’s where space architect Sam Ximenes and his San Antonio-based venture, Astroport Space Technologies, come into play. Astroport has secured its second small business grant from NASA, collaborating with the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) on groundbreaking research focused on designing robots capable of constructing a lunar landing pad.

Turning Moon Dust into Building Blocks

Astroport’s initial contract with NASA led to the development of a furnace capable of liquefying moon dust and shaping it into Lego-like bricks. The current contract tackles a related challenge: how to supply the furnace with lunar regolith. The primary objective is to create robots, whether autonomous, remote-controlled, or a blend of both, capable of collecting and transporting fine lunar soil to the furnace.

While these bricks can serve various purposes in lunar base construction, the immediate need is a landing pad. When a spacecraft lands or takes off from the moon, it propels lunar soil into the air, creating a high-velocity lunar dust cloud that can pose significant hazards for incoming and existing spacecraft. This dust cloud could also damage lunar equipment, such as tractors and habitats.

Collaborative Research for Space Sustainability

UTSA plays a critical role in Astroport’s research efforts. Professors Sazzad Bin-Shafique and Ibukun Awolusi led the research, with contributions from graduate students. The partnership aims to unlock incredible opportunities for space sustainability, ultimately contributing to the broader space exploration objectives. Astroport’s endeavor extends beyond borders, with expertise from the University of Adelaide in Australia, known for its space research center and lunar simulation lab. California-based aerospace company Venturi Astrolab provides guidance on integrating the system with robotic rovers, a crucial aspect of this lunar construction project.

A Thriving Space Economy on the Horizon

Ximenes points out that the recent surge in space research and exploration results from private companies like SpaceX has significantly reduced the cost of orbital travel. This surge is propelling the emergence of a space economy, with lunar endeavors representing a pivotal step toward the ultimate goal of reaching Mars. Astroport’s NASA contracts, classified as Phase 1 Small Business Technology Transfers, are funded at $150,000 each, potentially increasing to $800,000 if they advance to Phase 2.

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