NASA selects LASP-led IMPACT center to conduct dust-related research

IMPACT center dust accelerator

At the core of IMPACT faciilities is 3 MV linear electrostatic dust accelerator which is used for a variety of impact research activities as well as calibrating dust instruments for space applications. The dust accelerator is equipped with a 3 MV Pelletron generator capable of accelerating micron and submicron particles of various materials to velocities exceeding 100 km/s. (Courtesy LASP)

NASA has selected eight teams to collaborate on research into the intersection of space science and human space exploration as part of the Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI). Among the teams is the CU Boulder and LASP-led Institute for Modeling Plasmas, Atmospheres, and Cosmic Dust (IMPACT).

The IMPACT center, led by LASP scientist and CU Boulder professor of physics, Mihály Horányi, is an international collaboration that includes partners from the CU Boulder departments of physics and aerospace engineering sciences, LASP, and the Colorado School of Mines. The focus of IMPACT center research is the dusty plasma environments around the moon and other airless bodies in the solar system.

IMPACT deputy director, Tobin Munsat, also a physics professor at CU Boulder, described the diversity of the group’s projects: “The IMPACT program includes a whole range of experiments, theory, and simulations of plasma, dust, and surface interactions. We look at high-speed impacts using the CU dust accelerator, we have experiments on dust mobilization and transport, we investigate the accessibility of water deposits at the lunar poles, and we have simulations of the basic physical processes, which drive these phenomena at the lunar surface.”

Originally awarded funding through the NASA Lunar Science Institute in 2009, the IMPACT team will continue to use its world-class dust accelerator to measure micron-sized dust impacts in icy regolith. The accelerator has been used to conduct research on dust particles since February 2011 and has measured dust at speeds up to 115.4 km/sec (or 258,142 mph).

With the new five-year, $3.75 million award, IMPACT scientists and engineers will also develop hardware to determine secondary particle generation and examine how that hardware degrades over time. IMPACT will use laboratory experiments to help validate theories of dust and volatile mobility and modeling efforts being completed by other SSERVI teams.

“This kind of work is especially important right now, with NASA’s renewed emphasis on missions to the moon, but our work helps us understand bodies all over the solar system,” Munsat added.

Based and managed at Ames, SSERVI was created in 2014 as an expansion of the NASA Lunar Science Institute. It supports scientific and human exploration research at potential future human exploration destinations under the guiding philosophy that exploration and science enable each other. SSERVI members include academic institutions, non-profit research institutes, commercial companies, NASA centers and other government laboratories.

The new teams, announced by NASA on June 28, will join four current SSERVI teams to conduct fundamental and applied research about the moon, near Earth asteroids, as well as the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos and their near space environments. Work will take place in cooperation with U.S and international partners.

“The discoveries these teams make will be vital to our future exploration throughout the solar system with robots and humans,” said Lori Glaze, director of the Planetary Science Division in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

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