Joint electron-beam research grant aims at Mars - and the stars

July 27, 2004

Texas AM University research will contribute to future Mars missions thanks to a partnership between the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the Dwight Look College of Engineering and NASA.

Dr. Suresh Pillai, director of the National Center for Electron Beam Food Research, and Dr. Lee Braby, a research professor in the department of nuclear engineering, received a $900,000 grant from NASA. The grant will be used to investigate how electron-beam irradiation can contribute to solar exploration.

The researchers are working with the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory to examine how electron beam technology can sterilize spacecraft components.

"Deep space missions must be properly sterilized to distinguish between organisms brought from Earth and those that may be indigenous to other planetary bodies, such as Mars," Pillai said.

"Electron-beam irradiation is potentially a better solution than dry-heat sterilization, the key NASA-approved technique."

Pillai said dry-heat sterilization involves heating components at 110 C for at least 40 hours.

"Unfortunately, many components are heat sensitive and undergo deterioration making them incompatible with heat sterilization," he said.

The research will revolve around heat-sensitive materials such as low-temperature adhesives, polymers used in making lander balloons and printed circuit board materials. The focus will be on developing electron-beam technology for spacecraft materials and components.

"The proposed work will advance electron-beam sterilization technology to an operational level," Pillai said. "This will be a major advance towards adding a new and highly capable sterilization technique to the current limited NASA planetary protection tool set."

Dr. Mark McLellan, director of the Institute of Food Science and Engineering, said he welcomes the collaboration.

"It's a great partnership and success story for multi-disciplinary projects— the kind the institute strives to make happen."

Source: Texas A&M University

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