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FIU technology heads to International Space Station
In the Plasma Forming Laboratory, high temperature plasma is sprayed on metallic samples to deposit FIU's coating material.

FIU technology heads to International Space Station

An FIU lab has developed a new coating to protect machinery for use on the lunar surface – think rovers and excavators – against radiation levels up to 1,000 times greater than on Earth.

August 23, 2022 at 2:00pm

Humanity is heading back to the moon, this time to stay. An innovation from the College of Engineering and Computing could be key to the quest’s success.

NASA’s Artemis Program plans to build the first-ever base camp on the lunar surface. The agency seeks to generate scientific discoveries, economic benefits and inspiration for a new generation of explorers.

Artemis’ success will depend in large part on protecting technology like rovers and excavation tools from the harsh elements of space. To help, FIU’s Plasma Forming Laboratory has developed an innovative coating material to shield structures at their movement and pivot points—the chinks in their armor.

This fall, a sample of the coating is heading to the International Space Station, where it will be mounted to a platform outside the facility for exposure to space. The coating will then be analyzed for its resistance to radiation.

Radiation can interrupt signal processing in electronics and shorten the service life of structures.

“By attaching the material to the International Space Station, we can get close to simulating the real radiation that structures will face on the moon,” says Professor Arvind Agarwal, chair of the department of the mechanical and materials engineering department and director of the Plasma Forming Lab.

FIU’s sample coating will be placed on the side of the International Space Station that directly faces the Sun. After six months, a crew of astronauts will take the material back to Earth for analysis.

“Our team selected direct exposure to the sun because we want to be very harsh on our coatings,” says Sara Rengifo ‘16, a materials engineer at NASA who is working with Agarwal on the research.

FIU and NASA scientists will be watching closely for how the coating changes temperature as the space station orbits Earth. Meanwhile, back at FIU and NASA laboratories, the material will be tested for its durability against lunar dust, tiny shards of rock found in abundance on the moon’s surface.

NASA expects the test's findings to benefit future missions. The resulting data could help the agency reduce service and repair needs. The research may also yield commercial implications in industries where materials face harsh conditions, such as in nuclear waste containment and hypersonic vehicles production.

The research is a collaboration between public and private entities. Six Panthers are working on the project, including four interns. FIU is the principal academic partner.