Categorized | Featured, Sci-Tech

PISCES to hold moon mission tests on Big Island (Jan. 22)

Mauna Kea's slopes are ideal for lunar tests. (Photo courtesy of PISCES)

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NASA, Canadian and German space agency tests in Hawaii are showcasing a strategy of international cooperation.

PISCES, the Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, is playing a significant role in the space program, providing a lunar-like setting for international collaboration on future space missions.

From Jan. 22 to Feb. 11, PISCES will bring together teams from NASA and the Canadian and German space agencies to a research and testing site on Hawaii’s volcanic soil, which closely resembles the surfaces of the Moon and Mars.

Here, they will test technology that will help astronauts live off the land, manufacture their own oxygen and water, and survive for long periods of time in space. More than a dozen projects will be involved, featuring rovers, lasers, drills, solar arrays and oxygen-making equipment. There will also be training exercises in space medicine.

College students from the University of Hawaii at Hilo and Manoa will support many of the tests.

PISCES will host the field tests on the lower slopes of Mauna Kea, at a site approved by the state and supported by a community-based Cultural Advisory Committee. PISCES also will work with participating agencies to ensure the return of the site to its original state following the tests.

“While the timeline for human space missions may change, the need to prepare now is essential, and international cooperation in this arena will benefit everyone,” said Dr. Frank Schowengerdt, PISCES Director and former head of NASA’s Research Partnership Centers at universities throughout the U.S.

“The Big Island of Hawaii, with its surface of ash and rocks, provides a great environment for testing equipment that astronauts will need on the Moon, Mars and other destinations in space; and we want the PISCES site to serve as a resource for scientists from all over the world to come and work together on space technology,” Schowengerdt said.

Field test activities will include the building of a spacecraft landing pad by three rovers that will “communicate” and work together to actually construct the landing pad.

Another project, involving both Canadian and American teams, features a system that detects water and oxygen that can be extracted from the soil and stored. This system operates on two rovers; the first one provides the drill, crusher and chemistry plant, and the second one carries the power and electronics.

Scientists will drill and analyze rocks and dirt at the test site, then use a solar concentrator to melt this material down into a smooth substance that can be used on a landing pad or on roadways. NASA will test a process that extracts oxygen from the lunar-like soil in the form of water or carbon monoxide, then recycles the reactants and stores the oxygen.

The German Space Agency (DLR) will test a system that uses a mechanical mole to dig down several meters beneath the surface and has sensors that provide measurements. The DLR and Hochschule Bremen will test a specialized rover with wheels that allow the rover to move sideways, like a crab, on rocky terrain.

In addition to space agencies, companies and universities conducting tests include the Northern Centre for Advanced Technology, Inc. (NORCAT), Virgin Technologies Inc., Xiphos Technologies, Inc., Electric Vehicle Controllers Ltd. (EVC), Neptec Design Group, Ontario Drive and Gear Ltd. (ODG), Orbital Technologies Corp. (Orbitec), Physical Sciences Inc. (PSI), Honeybee Robotics, University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS), and Arizona State University.

PISCES has arranged for speakers from NASA and other agencies to visit Hawaii schools the week of Jan. 25. PISCES also has lined up a teacher workshop on the free, Web-based education program, www.SpaceClass.org, is 3 p.m. Monday, Feb. 8 at the Institute for Astronomy Auditorium in the UH-Hilo Campus Technology Park.

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