One of the significant challenges of missions to the moon is dealing with the fine and powdery lunar regolith on the moon’s surface. NASA found during the Apollo era that the lunar regolith stuck to everything, and it was very difficult to remove. In preparation for putting humans back on the moon’s surface in the future, NASA is conducting research looking for various methods to deal with the lunar regolith.
One of the biggest concerns about the lunar soil is how it might be kicked up when the spacecraft fires its thrusters to slow its descent and land on the surface. As the engine exhaust stirs up the regolith, NASA is concerned that it could potentially destabilize the lander or damage instruments. Researchers at the Kennedy Space Center are currently conducting experiments on 16 tons of simulated lunar regolith known as Black Point-1 or BP-1.
Researchers are using the massive amount of simulated lunar soil to understand plume surface interaction, which describes how the rocket exhaust plume will affect the moon’s surface during landing. NASA is concerned about regolith because the material is very abrasive, with particles featuring many irregularly shaped crushed rocks and sharp angles.
When considering BP-1, NASA compared it to actual lunar regolith recovered from past missions and several other simulants. The space agency found that BP-1’s properties are similar to both actual lunar regolith and other simulants. BP-1 gets its name from where it’s sourced; the Black Point lava flow in northern Arizona.
NASA uses the site as a stand-in for the moon’s surface and has since the Apollo era. The same site is also used for simulating the surface of Mars. Investigations into plume surface interactions are continuing at NASA, with more and larger experiments planned in the future. NASA says it has taken precautions in testing environments using the simulant to ensure the very fine particles aren’t inhaled.