The SBIR Phase I project will develop a dust mitigation technology for NASA’s planetary exploration missions. Specifically, this technology combines three dust removal mechanisms, including vibration, electrodynamic force, and superhydrophobic surface, and integrates them into a single laminate (PolyK Dust Mitigation Laminate, or PKDML). Once the PKDML is activated, dust particles will be bumped off the surface by vibration and steered away by electrodynamic force. The superhydrophobic surface reduces the adhesion between dust and surface, further facilitating dust movement and preventing dust accumulation. This technology can provide far more effective and efficient solution than the current state-of-the-art (electrodynamic dust shield, or EDS), as manifested at least in: 1) dust is transported in air rather than along the surface, which will save a significant amount of electrical energies that are otherwise needed to overcome the strong surface friction; 2) vibration is more effective in removing uncharged and large dust particles than the EDS technology. Moreover, the PKDML has similar structure layout to the EDS technology, enabling the fast manufacturing, installation, and adoption for the emerging NASA lunar and Mars missions.
The feasibility of this technology has been verified by out promising preliminary results. The in-depth experience and expertise in high voltage manipulation, electroactive polymers, actuator designs and applications, and manufacturing capability will greatly endorse this project.
The PKDML technology can be immediately applied in NASA exploration systems such as optical systems, including solar panels, camera lenses, and spacecraft viewports, as well as in active parts that need certain freedom of movement, such as spacesuit fabrics, rotary joints, and connectors. Furthermore, the electroactive polymer layer integrated in the PKDML is also a force sensor, and the weight and location of deposited dust can be monitored on a real-time basis to determine whether the dust cleaning is required (smart dust removal)
While the PKDML are designed for NASA applications, they can also be used in civilian and commercial applications, especially for solar panel cleaning, hard-to-reach surface cleaning.