London, UK (SPX) Jan 20, 2005
Simulated moon dust has been used to make a key component of a working solar cell, giving an unexpected boost to President George W. Bush's project of setting up a colony on the moon, reports New Scientist.
Bush's plan, announced a year ago, envisages a permanent lunar base from which people can go out and explore the moon, and then go on to Mars.
"We will need a power source," says David Williams, a planetary and lunar scientist at NASA's National Space Science Data Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "Bringing stuff up from Earth is really expensive."
Four years ago, Alex Freundlich and his colleagues at the University of Houston in Texas came up with the idea of getting robotic rovers to build solar cells entirely out of lunar dust or "regolith" (New Scientist, 24 June 2000, p 14) .
This fine, grey powder is half silicon dioxide, with the remainder made up of a blend of oxides of 12 metals, including aluminium, magnesium and iron.
The team reasoned that this mix contains all the elements necessary to build a solar panel, and suggested that robots trundling over the lunar surface could melt regolith, refine it and then lay down a glassy substrate on which solar cells could be deposited. The rover- solar-powered of course- would leave a trail of solar panels in its wake.
Now Freundlich and his team have shown that a key part of this plan should work. They simulated what the rovers will do inside a vacuum chamber, which they used to get as close as possible to the moon's near-perfect vacuum.
They melted a powder called JSC-1, which has a composition identical to the samples of regolith brought back by the Apollo astronauts, and then let it resolidify as a smooth, glassy sheet.
The researchers then showed that a solar cell deposited on the surface of this sheet by thermal evaporation converts light into electricity. They report their work in the latest edition of Acta Astronomica (vol 56, p 537).
Demonstrating that the base of a solar panel, which makes up the majority of its mass, could be built entirely out of lunar dust is a big step, Freundlich says.
This article will appear in full in the January 22 issue of New Scientist
University of Houston in Texas
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SMART-1 Approaching Final Lunar Orbit
Paris, France (ESA) Jan 18, 2005
While approaching its final operational orbit around the Moon, SMART-1 interrupted the Electric Propulsion operations on Monday 10 January 2005. The reason for this delay before reaching the target orbit is to estimate the remaining fuel and plan accurately for a mission extension.
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