Skip to main content

NASA’s moon buggies could one day be driving on lunar roads

The moon looks set to receive more visitors than it’s ever had, with NASA and its partners planning to build a permanent base on the lunar surface for extended stays by astronauts.

Crews will explore the lunar surface in next-generation rovers, but mission planners have serious concerns about all of the damaging dust that those buggies will kick up as they go.

To solve the problem, engineers are developing a way to melt the dust to create paved surfaces, offering a safer and smoother journey for rovers and their occupants.

For Earth-based tests using simulated moon dust, the project utilizes a laser beam to melt the powdery dirt into a glassy solid surface. However, engineers believe that on the moon astronauts will be able to replace the laser with sunlight concentrated through a Fresnel lens.

The European Space Agency (ESA) shared details of the work in a video posted online on Sunday. It follows a more detailed report about the technology published earlier this month.

"Where we're going we DO need roads!" 🌚

To keep abrasive, sticky, lunar dust at bay on the Moon, astronauts will need paved roads and landing pads.

But how can we build roads on the Moon?


— ESA (@esa) October 22, 2023

Engineers working on the project have found a way to deploy a 1.77-inch-diameter (4.5 cm) laser beam to create triangular, hollow-centered geometric shapes about 7.87 inches (20 cm) across. The tiles can be interlocked to create solid surfaces across large areas of lunar soil, which could function as roads or landing pads, ESA said.

The project team estimates that it would take around 115 days to construct a suitable landing pad using the method.

ESA materials engineer Advenit Makaya described the resulting material as “glasslike and brittle,” adding that as it would be subject to downward compression forces, repairs would be unnecessary if it suffered any cracks.

Lunar dust is abrasive and sharp, and the moon’s low gravity makes it a serious menace for visiting missions.

“Dust mitigation has been an issue for NASA since Apollo,” the U.S. space agency says on its website. “When astronauts were entering and exiting the lunar module, dust got everywhere — it clogged mechanisms, interfered with instruments, caused radiators to overheat, and even tore up their spacesuits.”

Anything that can keep the dust at bay will be a welcome improvement for the upcoming Artemis missions, so engineers will continue to develop the paving technology in the hope of sending it to the moon to literally turn dust into roads.

Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
Not so many moons ago, Trevor moved from one tea-loving island nation that drives on the left (Britain) to another (Japan)…
With Intuitive Machines’ mission cut short, when is the next lunar landing?
NASA's Orion spacecraft as it flies by the moon.

Performing a controlled, soft landing on the moon isn’t easy. Three missions attempted to reach our nearest neighbor in recent weeks. Two of the landers -- one from Japan’s space agency and another from Texas-based Intuitive Machines -- touched down on the lunar surface but toppled over, creating challenges for their respective mission operators. A third moon-bound mission, from Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic, suffered a propellant leak shortly after launch that prevented it from even attempting a landing.

The most recent visit, by Intuitive Machines, made history on February 22 when it became the first commercial company to achieve a soft lunar touchdown in a mission that was also the first U.S. lunar landing in more than 50 years.

Read more
Odysseus shares new moon images ahead of imminent landing attempt
Intuitive Machines' Odysseus spacecraft ahead of its lunar landing attempt.

Texas-based Intuitive Machines is on course to perform the first successful soft lunar landing by a commercial company, as well as the first U.S. moon landing since the final Apollo mission more than five decades ago.

But, as the company said in a message on social media, “The landing opportunity will be Odysseus’ hardest challenge yet.”

Read more
The moon is shrinking, causing moonquakes at the lunar south pole
Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC), Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) mosaic of the Wiechert cluster of lobate scarps (left pointing arrows) near the lunar south pole. A thrust fault scarp cut across an approximately 1-kilometer (0.6-mile) diameter degraded crater (right pointing arrow).

The moon was long thought to be geologically dead, with no processes occurring inside its core.  But increasing evidence over the last decades suggests that the moon isn't static and could, in fact, still be tectonically active. Now, new research from NASA suggests that the shrinking of the moon over time is causing moonquakes and the formation of faults near its south pole.

The research is part of NASA's interest in the lunar south pole, given the agency's intention to send astronauts there. Researchers have modeled lunar activity to look for the source of moonquakes seen during the Apollo missions.

Read more