A new system capable of providing substantial quantities of power for any potential future missions to the moon — think lunar vehicles and crew stations — was recently developed by researchers from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia and a number of international collaborators.
The new “system of mirrors” utilizes Fresnel reflectors along with processed and modified lunar soil (regolith) to capture the energy of the Sun’s rays — energy which is then used either to heat equipment and/or living spaces during the long lunar nights, or to power a Stirling engine (producing electricty).
Such a system is of potentially great use — precluding the necessity for complex battery systems or nuclear power sources, such as those used recently on board the rover that China landed on the moon.
The press release from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia provides more:
The lunar night lasts approximately 14 days, during which temperatures as low as -150 ºC have been recorded. This complicates vehicle movement and equipment functioning on the lunar surface, requiring the transport of heavy batteries from Earth or the use of nuclear energy, as exemplified by the Chinese rover Yutu. But now, a team of researchers have provided two new solutions to the question of storing energy on the Moon during the day for use at night — potentially addressing these issues.
“The first system consists of modifying fragments of regolith or lunar soil, incorporating elements such as aluminium, for example, such that it becomes a thermal mass,” states Ricard Gonzalez-Cinca, a physics researcher at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia and co-author of the new study. “When the Sun’s rays hit the surface, a system of mirrors reflects the light to heat the thermal mass, which later can transmit heat during the night to rovers and other lunar equipment.”
“The second system is similar, but incorporates a more sophisticated series of mirrors and a heat engine. The mirrors are Fresnel reflectors, such as those used in some solar energy technologies on Earth, which concentrate solar rays upon a fluid-filled tube. This heat converts the liquid into a gas, which in turn heats the thermal mass. Afterwards, during the long lunar night, the heat is transferred to a Stirling engine to produce electricity.”
“This system is better equipped than the previous model for lunar projects with greater energy needs, such as a manned mission spending the night on the moon.”
Many of the most prominent spaces agencies of the world — including NASA, the European Space Agency, and the China National Space Administration — are currently aiming to put people back on the moon sometime during the 2020’s. New technologies such as the one detailed in this article will likely be necessary for such missions to prove successful.
The new research was just published in the journal Acta Astronautica.
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