A new facility established by Australia’s national science agency has opened its doors to researchers and businesses that want to test how their technology will function on the moon.
According to Dr Kimberley Clayfield, space program director at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), the facility will support the agency’s space research, as well as the activities of the space sector.
“Our ability to simulate the lunar terrain at this scale is an exciting advancement for the development of space technology in Australia,” Clayfield said.
“This facility is the latest example of our commitment to stimulating innovation, supporting industry and solving the greatest challenges through space science, technology and exploration.”
The In-situ Resource Utilisation (ISRU) facility is based at the agency’s Queensland Centre for Advanced Technologies and will be used for testing equipment in a moon-like environment, with a sealed area that contains various types of lunar regolith simulant (or fabricated moon dust) that have properties just like those on the moon’s surface.
The facility will have a mission control room, where rovers, payloads and related equipment can be remotely monitored, as well as tanks and pits for smaller-scale tests.
“We’re looking forward to working with researchers and businesses from across the space sector to test their technology and systems for future space missions,” Clayfield said.
ISRU project leader Dr Jonathon Talston explained that lunar regolith was both the solution and challenge for future robotic missions to the moon. He said that because the material stuck to everything, it was capable of destroying the sensitive technology being sent into space.
“We know the regolith will contain useful materials like oxygen that could be used for fuel or breathable air, however, we need to first identify these elements and develop ways of extracting and processing them,” Ralston said.
“The challenge is the moon dust is powdery, sharp and electrostatically charged so it sticks to everything and has the potential to damage the technology sent to investigate it.”
Ralston added that the new CSIRO lunar testbed would integrate with the agency’s other co-located testing facilities including the robotics playground.
“Integration and access to other facilities and equipment on site is another advantage that will benefit future users of our facility,” he said.
The Mandarin reported earlier this year on a new startup established by the CSIRO and NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer — Quasar Satellite Technologies — to build space communications technology using an Australian-based team, with expertise and research support from the CSIRO.