Lotus-inspired dust-preventing shield may protect spaceflight gear

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Washington, September 24 (ANI): Researchers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, are developing a special transparent coating to prevent dirt and even bacteria from sticking to and contaminating the surfaces of spaceflight gear, in the same way a lotus plant sheds water.

The lotus plant has inspired materials engineers to create a coating that mimics the plant's unusual self-cleaning capabilities.

Although a lotus leaf appears smooth, under a microscope, its surface contains innumerable tiny spikes that greatly reduce the area on which water and dirt can attach.

"If you splash lotus leaves with water, it just beads up and rolls off, indicating they have a special hydrophobic or water-repelling ability," said Eve Wooldridge, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) Project Contamination and Coatings Lead at Goddard.

"This ability also prevents dust from adhering to the leaves," she added.

This special quality is what the NASA team is attempting to replicate to prevent dirt from accumulating on the surfaces of spacesuits, scientific instruments, robotic rovers, solar array panels and other hardware used to gather scientific data or carry out exploratory activities on other objects in the solar system.

The coating was originally developed to reduce the need for window cleaning. Made from silica, zinc oxide, and other oxides, its potential uses on Earth are limitless.

Understanding the potential, Northrop Grumman teamed with nGimat to find more applications for the coating technology.

The pair ultimately turned to Goddard for its expertise in making equipment ready to endure the harsh space environment.

The Goddard team has experimented with and tested different formulas to determine their suitability for spaceflight.

"No one formula will meet all our needs," said Goddard engineer Wanda Peters. "For example, the coating that's applied to spacesuits needs to stick to a flexible surface, while a coating developed to protect moving parts needs to be exceptionally durable to resist wear and tear," she added.

The Goddard team has met with exploration systems engineers at NASA's Johnson Spaceflight Center, Houston, Texas, to demonstrate the modified coatings and get mission requirements.

Besides spacesuits and moving parts, it could be applied to solar panels and radiators, where cleanliness keeps them operating at their maximum potential.

The team also is trying to partner with Northrop Grumman to add a biocide to the coating, which would kill bacteria that thrive and produce foul odors wherever people are confined to a small space for long periods, like the space station.

NASA could apply the same biocide-infused coating on a planetary lander to prevent Earth-borne bacteria from adhering and potentially contaminating the surface of an extraterrestrial object. (ANI)

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