LunaDome is a soda-can-sized experiment which will be on board one of the first commercial moon landings in 2020. Its purpose is to create and maintain atmospheric conditions in an inflatable ‘dome’ on the lunar surface. As a small-scale technology demonstrator, the resulting data will establish whether a similar system can be scaled up for future manned habitats in space.
With the support of academics from the University of Bath and experienced engineers from our industrial sponsors, LunaDome is currently on-track to be manufactured and qualified for the mission by the end of 2019. Join the LunaDome team on their journey to send the first UK payload to the moon!
How the Idea Evolved
LunaDome was conceptualised as an entry to the Lab2Moon competition in 2016 by two University of Bath students sitting at a kitchen table in Yeovil. Using their experience working on Environmental Control and Life Support Systems in aircraft, the team formed the idea of creating a habitable environment in space.
Considering almost all manned spacecraft have rigid constructions, the team realised that by using expandable technology, the payload could be packaged efficiently into a rocket, then when deployed and inflated it could occupy a much larger, more useful volume.
NASA have recently announced a new Commercial Lunar Payload Service (CLPS) – an initiative which will work with nine US companies to perform regular lunar exploration missions. One of these is OrbitBeyond who have partnered with TeamIndus to perform the 2020 mission which LunaDome will be part of.
Before Launch, LunaDome will be passed onto TeamIndus in Bangalore to be integrated with the lunar lander. It will then travel to OrbitBeyond in the US who will handle the logistics of the mission, followed by NASA who will launch the vehicle on its journey to the moon.
The spacecraft will spend between 10 and 20 days in transit to the lunar surface, during which it will undergo severe structural and thermal loading while being bombarded with deadly solar radiation. The spacecraft must time its descent perfectly in order to land on the surface at the lunar dawn and ensure the mission duration is maximised.
After landing, the spacecraft will deploy its primary payloads including a rover which will spend its time exploring the lunar surface. After 24 hours, power will be supplied to secondary payloads such as LunaDome at which point, the experiment will begin.
The system uses oxygen-rich air which will travel from a storage tank into the flexible dome, inflating it to the desired pressure. Using feedback from sensors, the system will maintain the pressure at a habitable level and heaters mounted to the spacecraft will control the temperature. The experiment will constantly communicate with the lander through an RS-485 datalink, receiving commands from the spacecraft and relaying data back to earth. At the end of the lunar day (14 earth days), the experiment will end, venting its contents to space and cutting its power in a safe, controlled manner.
This experiment aims to meet three goals:
- Prove that inflatable space structures are lighter, cheaper and packaged more efficiently than similar rigid structures
- Demonstrate that the pneumatic system used in LunaDome can maintain habitable conditions for a prolonged time period
- Use the data gathered by the sensors to establish whether similar systems can be scaled up for future human habitation