A windshield wiper for Mars dust developed

Sep 24, 2012
A team of researchers at Universidad Carlos III in Madrid has developed a device that works as a windshield wiper to eliminate Mars dust from the sensors on the NASA spacecrafts that travel to the red planet. Credit: UC3M

A team of researchers at Universidad Carlos III in Madrid has developed a device that works as a windshield wiper to eliminate Mars dust from the sensors on the NASA spacecrafts that travel to the red planet.

The actuator, a type of brush made up of Teflon fibers that are moved by materials that have shape memory, was designed to clean the ultraviolet sensors that were part of the North American space agency's Curiosity mission, although, in the end, the device did not fly with the Martian rover. "In our laboratories, we demonstrated that it worked correctly in the that it would have to endure on Mars, with temperatures ranging between zero degrees and eighty below zero Celsius, and an one hundred times lower than that of the earth," explains the head of the project at UC3M, Luis Enrique Moreno, a tenured professor in the Department of Systems and Automatics Engineering.

This device, whose technology will be used to carry out other space missions that are already under way, solves a problem presented by the : the accumulation of iron dust on the flat surfaces of sensors. The Spanish firm Crisa, part of Astrium España, charged UC3M with developing this device, so that it could be built into the Curiosity mission's , REMS (Rover Environmental Monitoring Station), which was developed by a consortium of research centers under the direction of the Centro de Astrobiología (CSIC/INTA – Astrobiology Center).

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A team of researchers at Universidad Carlos III in Madrid has developed a device that works as a windshield wiper to eliminate Mars dust from the sensors on the NASA spacecrafts that travel to the red planet. Credit: UC3M

One of the greatest challenges presented by this type of project is to reduce its weight, given that launching any type of material into space is very expensive. Because of this, the design used in this device relied on a type of actuators based on material with (SMA), a very light nickel and that allows movement when the composite is heated. "The main advantage is that these alloys produce a material that is very strong as related to its weight, that is, a thread of less than one millimeter can lift a weight of 4 or 5 kilograms," states Professor Moreno. "The problem presented by these mechanisms," he continues, "is that, because they are based on thermal effects, they are not as efficient as motor technology, although they are much lighter, which is a very important consideration in ."

This group and other research groups at the UC3M are currently working on a second, more elaborate prototype based on SMA technology; it will be used to clean dust from fixed meteorological stations that will be deployed as part of the MEIGA-METNET mission, whose Mars launch is set for the year 2014. "We are also using this technology to develop the exoskeletons used to aid people with mobility problems, trying to substitute motors with these materials, in order to reduce the devices' weight and increase agility in their use," points out Luis Enrique Moreno. According to the researchers, this new product could even be used in the future to improve the joints on the gloves used by astronauts during their excursions out of the spacecraft.

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User comments : 12

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Lurker2358
1 / 5 (1) Sep 24, 2012
Boo.

Use compressed air.

A simple Syringe should do the trick.

Like one extra actuator would be needed, but there would be no friction to worry about.

You don't need huge pressures either, just a long enogh tube to collect enough air to compress to a high enough pressure to move dust particles. In mars gravity and atmosphere you probably only need 1 or 2 psi.

Even better, just use a small blower, with a fan and a tube for directed flow. Why is that so hard to do? The atmospheric pressure is low, sure, but the laws of physics are the same. A fan with a few watts, like what is in a computer for cooling, should be able to do this if it is directed into a tube to control the direction of air flow.

Of course you need heat/cold tolerant materials, but they've already solved THAT problem.

Wow. You'd think the engineers would have thought of this, as I did years ago, but apparently not.
marble89
5 / 5 (1) Sep 24, 2012
Lurker: your ideas sound more complex with more moving parts than their simple brush. And I'd be surprised if NASA/JPL hasn't looked into this dust problem in great detail.
Lurker2358
1 / 5 (1) Sep 24, 2012
Lurker: your ideas sound more complex with more moving parts than their simple brush. And I'd be surprised if NASA/JPL hasn't looked into this dust problem in great detail.


They'll need a brush on every surface.

An orientable air device could be mounted on one of the arms and used to clean all surfaces, and even get between the wheels and other moving parts if need be.

cantdrive85
3 / 5 (2) Sep 24, 2012
The biggest issue with the dust build up is the electrostatic aspect of the dust, a simple blast of air will not do the trick.
marble89
not rated yet Sep 24, 2012
actually cantdrive85 one of the surprises of the solar powered MER rover missions was the "cleaning" events. Apparently periodic gust of wind remove enough dust from the solar panels to keep the rovers going - opportunity is now on its 8th year i believe. You are partially correct in that there appears to be a small electrostatic dust component that adheres to all surfaces regardless of orientation
marble89
not rated yet Sep 24, 2012
one thing we learned from the MER rovers is that the micron scale martian dust is hard on anything with moving parts
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (2) Sep 24, 2012
actually cantdrive85 one of the surprises of the solar powered MER rover missions was the "cleaning" events. Apparently periodic gust of wind remove enough dust from the solar panels to keep the rovers going - opportunity is now on its 8th year i believe. You are partially correct in that there appears to be a small electrostatic dust component that adheres to all surfaces regardless of orientation

To your point, one may consider if there is an electrical aspect of the wind that cleanses being there is so little atmospheric pressure.
marble89
5 / 5 (1) Sep 24, 2012
actually cantdrive85 one of the surprises of the solar powered MER rover missions was the "cleaning" events. Apparently periodic gust of wind remove enough dust from the solar panels to keep the rovers going - opportunity is now on its 8th year i believe. You are partially correct in that there appears to be a small electrostatic dust component that adheres to all surfaces regardless of orientation

To your point, one may consider if there is an electrical aspect of the wind that cleanses being there is so little atmospheric pressure.

what the atmosphere can deposit
the atmosphere can remove
this is a universal law of all atmospheres

cantdrive85
1 / 5 (2) Sep 24, 2012

what the atmosphere can deposit
the atmosphere can remove
this is a universal law of all atmospheres


Yes, but why is the dust charged? Was it induced by an electric wind? We know from lab experiments that electric currents create wind, could it be electric currents flowing through the nearly nonexistent atmosphere that drags the dust and charges it as it does. Such a supposition would explain Martian dust devils as well as the seasonal dust storms that envelope hemispheric sized areas.
marble89
5 / 5 (2) Sep 24, 2012
A "charge" on the dust particles is not required to form dust devils and other dust raising events. However, the friction between the particles during dust raising events may induce a charge.
So you have it the other way around.
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (3) Sep 24, 2012
Saltation doesn't account for the observed effects;
http://arxiv.org/abs/0711.1341

These guys show an E-field is necessary to account for the observations, however I disagree with their explanation for the creation of the E-field. The Electric Universe theory sees the E-field being created by an interplanetary electric circuit that is connected to the larger solar circuit. This interaction between two charged bodies within a radial electric field is the source of both atmospheres and the weather that occurs within them. Once this is understood (magnetic fields being even further evidence), the need for hypothetical self generating E-fields is unnecessary.
barakn
5 / 5 (1) Nov 23, 2012
Cantdrive85 - your linked paper suggests that electric fields enhance saltation. It has absolutely nothing to say about how dust particles might acquire an electrical charge. Another epic fail on your part.