One of the biggest challenges for astronauts going to the moon will be the talc-like regolith that covers most of our natural satellite's surface. This is the result of millions of years of operation of micrometeorites (i.e. meteorites less than 0.1 mm in diameter) and solar radiation, which in effect is very different from its Earth counterpart. This one is subject to erosion that smoothes the particles, while lunar particles are still razor-sharp and abrasive, and worse still electrostatic, so they stick to virtually all surfaces and have nasty chemical properties.
As we know from the Apollo mission, lunar regolith gets everywhere in no time, covering the visor of the helmet, clogging equipment and literally eating the layers of the suit. Moreover, recently it contributed to the difficulties during the mission of the Chinese rover Yutu, literally two days after its landing on the moon. As if that was not enough, depending on the place of origin, dust can have different chemical and abrasive characteristics, which is an additional problem when creating a suit resistant to such conditions, which is to survive the announced 2,500 hours of walks on the moon.
And although ESA does not develop suits on its own, it is still actively looking for suitable materials that can ultimately be used not only in suits, but also as covers for rovers and other devices. And in order for scientists to know what exactly they are facing, ESA has created an equivalent of lunar dust called EAC-1A, thanks to which it will be possible to track the wear of the suits, not only during their walks, but also during storage in the base, which is ultimately to be placed on the moon, where they will be exposed to accelerated deterioration due to humidity and radiation.
- No material can do this job. Therefore, our idea is to create a multi-layer solution and determine which combination of functional layers works best, both in terms of physical and chemical interaction with regolith, and how to best combine them, explains ESA materials and processes engineer Malgorzata Holynska. In short, this is a big problem and so far it is difficult to solve, but hopefully we will hear of a breakthrough in the near future.