There is a reason why there aren’t many man-made objects on the moon. It’s because they they are really difficult to design and make work! After Lab2Moon finished, we had to get LunaDome ready for space flight which meant doing some real work in a short time frame. We started working as interns with Team Indus alongside other successful Lab2Moon teams from India, Peru and Italy. This high-energy team is a great environment to get things done in, combining some of the best and most enthusiastic young minds from around the world.
Our prototype used a few “off-the shelf” components which were not suitable for the harsh lunar environment so we had to re-design almost the entire experiment. This meant Elliot and I worked on optimising the circuit, improving the reliability of the valves and developing the dome material and release mechanism.
During this process we have faced many difficulties – let’s firstly think about the launch. Considering our experiment will be exposed to extreme mechanical loads while holding air at high pressure, the strength of the components is a high priority. However, this project has limits on both size and mass which directly reduces the strength of the parts (not to mention each gram costs around $2,000). As a result we found ourselves constantly compromising on the mass of non-critical components while maintaining the strength of more important ones.
The success of LunaDome hinges on the ability for the air to be contained in the canister until touchdown and within the dome during inflation. The multitude of threads and contact regions in the structure must be completely sealed from leakage to ensure the experiment operates as efficiently as possible. This means all fasteners, gaskets, sealants and O-rings were carefully chosen to maximise the chance of success. Most of the common silicon-based electronic components fail in the extreme temperatures and radiation exposure present in space so it was essential that we combine the correct parts. We also had to seriously document everything we were doing and prove it would work – we only have one chance to make it work and it would be incredibly costly if anything was out of place.
Spending most of our time working in the UK, we found it difficult to progress with the development alongside Team Indus’ requirements for integration with the lunar lander. As we began closing out the designs I spent two weeks in Bangalore to set-up meetings with thermal, systems and mechanical experts to ensure we were still on track. We also agreed a statement of work with Team Indus, meaning once we complete the designs and hand over all the relevant documents, TI will manufacture, assemble and test the qualification model in preparation for flight, allowing us to focus on fundraising in the UK.
We are well on track to hit all of our technical deadlines, our final hurdle is to secure the $500,000 of sponsorship for the flight. We will keep you posted when we launch our campaign.
By Sam Brass
LunaDome Team Lead