In less than three years, astronauts will return to the Moon for the first time since the Apollo Era. As part of the Artemis Program, the purpose is not just to send manned missions back to the lunar surface to explore and collect samples.
This time around, there is also the goal of establishing vital infrastructure (such as the Lunar Portal and a Base Camp) that will allow for “sustained lunar exploration.”
A key requirement for this ambitious plan is power provision, which can be difficult in regions like the South Pole-Aitken Basin, a cratered region that is permanently in shadow.
To address this, a researcher at NASA Langley Research Center named Charles Taylor has proposed a novel concept known as “Light Bender.” Using the telescope’s optics, this system would capture and distribute sunlight on the Moon.
The Light Bender concept was one of 16 proposals that were selected for Phase I of NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) 2021 program, which is overseen by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD).
As with previous CANI submissions, the proposals that were selected represent a wide range of innovative ideas that could help advance NASA’s space exploration goals.
In this case, the Light Bender proposal addresses the needs of the astronauts who will be part of the Artemis missions and the “Long-term human presence on the lunar surface” that will follow.
Taylor’s concept design was inspired by the heliostat, a device that adjusts to compensate for the Sun’s apparent motion in the sky so that it continues to reflect sunlight toward a target.
In the case of the Light Bender, the Cassegrain telescope optics are used to capture, concentrate and focus sunlight, while a Fresnel lens is used to align the light beams for distribution to multiple sources located at distances of 1 kilometer ( 0.62 miles) or more. This light is then received by photovoltaic arrays measuring 2 to 4 meters (~ 6.5 to 13 feet) in diameter that convert sunlight into electricity.
In addition to habitats, the Light Bender is capable of providing power to cryocooling units and mobile assets such as rovers.
This type of matrix could also play an important role in creating vital infrastructure by providing power to On-Site Resource Utilization (ISRU) elements such as vehicles that collect local regoliths for use in 3-D printer modules ( who will use it to build surface structures).
As Taylor described in his NIAC Phase I proposal statement: “This concept is superior to alternatives such as highly inefficient laser power transmission, as it only converts light to electricity once, and to traditional power distribution architectures. that rely on high mass cables. The value The Light Bender proposition is ~ 5 times mass reduction compared to traditional technology solutions such as Laser Power Beaming or a distribution network based on high voltage cables. “
But perhaps the biggest appeal of such a system is the way it can distribute energy systems to permanently shadowed craters on the Moon’s surface, which are common in the Moon’s south polar region.
In the coming years, various space agencies, including NASA, ESA, Roscomos, and the China National Space Agency (CNSA), hope to establish long-term habitats in the area due to the presence of water ice and other resources.
The level of energy the system provides is also comparable to the Kilopower concept, a proposed nuclear fission power system designed to allow long-term stays on the Moon and other bodies.
This system will reportedly provide a power capacity of 10 electrical kilowatts (kWe), the equivalent of one thousand watts of electrical capacity.
“In the initial design, the primary mirror captures the equivalent of almost 48 kWe of sunlight,” writes Taylor. “The end-user electrical power depends on the distance from the main collection point, but subsequent analyzes suggest that at least 9kWe of continuous power will be available within 1km.”
On top of all that, Taylor emphasizes that the total amount of power the system can generate is scalable.
Basically, it can be increased simply by changing the size of the primary collector element, the size of the receiver elements, the distance between nodes, or simply increasing the total number of solar collectors on the surface. As time passes and more infrastructure is added to a region, the system can scale to suit.
As with all of the proposals that were selected for Phase I of the NIAC 2021 program, Taylor’s concept will receive a grant from NASA of up to $ 125,000.
All Phase I fellows are now in an initial nine-month feasibility study period, where designers will evaluate various aspects of their designs and address foreseeable issues that could affect the operations of the concepts once they are operating in the South Pole-Aitken basin.
In particular, Taylor will focus on how the optical lens could be improved based on different designs, materials, and coatings that would result in acceptable levels of light propagation.
It will also assess how the lens could be designed in such a way that it can deploy autonomously once it reaches the lunar surface. Possible methods for autonomous deployment will be the subject of further study.
Following the design / feasibility study, an assessment of the architectural alternatives for Light Bender will be conducted in the context of a lunar base located near the South Pole of the Moon during sustained operations on the lunar surface.
The main figure of merit will be the minimization of the land mass. Comparisons will be made with known power distribution technologies such as cables and laser power beams.
Once these feasibility studies are completed, Light Bender and other Phase I fellows will be able to apply for the Phase II awards. Said Jenn Gustetic, director of early-stage innovations and partnerships within NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD):
“NIAC Fellows are known for dreaming big, proposing technologies that may seem like border science fiction and are different from research funded by other agency programs. We don’t expect all of them to materialize, but we recognize that providing a small amount of seeds funding for early research could greatly benefit NASA in the long run. “
This article was originally published by Universe Today. Read the original article.