Moon surface simulator

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4 Jan, 2023
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Comex

Moon surface simulator

Prepare human and robotic exploration on the moon

The decade in which we live will see the return of man to the Moon accompanied by robotic systems.

The COMEX hydrosphere is a unique installation in Europe. A vacuum chamber of five meters in diameter containing 3.5 tons of regolith simulant, which is used to carry out preparation tests for future missions on the lunar soil.
The facility, referenced by ESA (European Space Agency), allows the development of specific test capabilities to simulate spacewalks.

One of the main constraints of operations on the lunar ground is the dust found there, the regolith. The abrasive nature of regolith causes damage, mechanical failure, material wear, etc.
Currently, there are few facilities in the world where the effects of lunar dust can be tested in a vacuum environment. COMEX has the only facility in Europe where such tests can be performed.

Currently, there are few facilities in the world where the effects of lunar dust can be tested in a vacuum environment. COMEX has the only facility in Europe where such tests can be performed.

Simulate surface operations with a lunar ground (simulating) in the vacuum

In the world, there are several chambers or ground models that can be used for equipment testing, either in vacuum conditions recreating a lunar atmosphere, or on a ground simulating the lunar soil. But very few means simulate both at the same time.

The HYDROSPHERE lunar surface simulator proposed by COMEX is therefore an additional asset for the development of space activities at the European level. The possibility of simulating lunar surface operations under vacuum in a chamber 5 meters in diameter offers a very wide field of exploration.

The installation is composed of three vacuum tightly sealed chambers and a control center.

The 5 m diameter sphere is the main element of the facility, allowing to reproduce the lunar surface with its 3.5 tons of regolith (simulant).

In terms of geochemistry, various regolith simulants can be available ranging from high-fidelity, for example for sampling, sample analysis, and ISRU testing, to low-fidelity simulants and rocks that can be used to test the mobility and situational awareness of a rover. COMEX is currently in possession of EAC-1 simulant provided by ESA-EAC filling the HYDROSPHERE ground.

Adjacent to the sphere, for all intra-vehicular activities (life in confinement, telemedicine), is a second enclosure used as an airlock and a third enclosure, the habitat, a chamber that provides space for a crew of up to eight subjects. The habitat has a volume that is close to the COLUMBUS laboratory of the ISS. .

The main sphere can be serviced by a crane and can receive large elements of 2m diameter from its top.

Human mission simulations

Surface simulations, manned flights, habitats and life support systems

The Hydrosphere installation can be used for various simulations

  • Future human and robotic missions on the lunar surface or Mars.
  • Understanding of the human factors of spaceflight
  • Simulations of habitat operations and life support systems

The similarity of the hydrosphere habitat volume to the internal volume of the ISS COLUMBUS has been instrumental in the ESA BIOMODEXO project, where mathematical models of bio-contamination have been validated inside the habitat and could also be used to develop methods against dust introduction for future expeditions to the Moon or Mars.

The adjacent control center is used to monitor activity inside the facility. It also allows to:

    • To simulate a mission control, as a center in communication with the crew with the addition of a delay in the links
    • Evaluate the human-robot interactions that are simulated, for example between the habitat and the main sphere or directly between an astronaut and the robot both in the sphere containing the regolith.

In addition to the lunar environment, the simulator can also be used for other planetary applications such as the technological demonstration of the Mars sample recovery rover, drones (flight systems in a low density atmosphere) or any other similar application identified in the context of extraterrestrial exploration missions.

Another advantage is that the configuration of the sphere allows the testing of EVA suits and equipment, textiles and materials, and their resistance to the environment: wear and tear and mechanical failure tests.

Robotic mission simulations

Future missions to the Moon will most likely see the advent of cooperation between astronauts and explorers or robotic helpers. The strength of the COMEX Hydrosphere installation is that it simply offers the possibility to simulate different mission scenarios with such robots

  • The robot in the sphere and a crew controlling it from the supervision center
  • Man and robot in the sphere, in cooperation
  • A drone flight in a controlled atmosphere

The expertise in controlled pressure acquired by COMEX for more than 60 years and the infrastructures present on its site make it a unique test and trial center in Europe, whether for underwater, terrestrial or extraterrestrial applications. This is why COMEX has been involved in the development of space projects since the 1980s in collaboration with ESA and CNES and why its facilities are listed with these agencies.

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