A team of Caltech undergraduates participating in NASA's 2021 Breakthrough, Innovative and Game-Changing (BIG) Idea Challenge has earned the award for Best Developed Product.
Seven finalist teams, selected by NASA and provided with up to $180,000 in funding, have been working since February on a prototype solution to the challenge that lunar dust poses to any future moon habitat. Lunar dust is abrasive and stays airborne easily due to the moon's weak gravity, presenting a threat to astronauts' health and equipment.
During an online forum held from November 18 to 19, the Caltech team presented their solution: Habitat Orientable & Modular Electrodynamic Shield (HOMES), a modular system of square floor tiles that acts as an electrodynamic dust shielding (EDS) system. While HOMES did not take home the top prize, which went to Washington State University, the Caltech undergraduates earned the Best Developed Product award, because—as noted by NASA—"it's not a concept; it's reality." The HOMES team built and successfully tested their system in Caltech labs.
"As Leonardo Da Vinci said, simplicity is the ultimate sophistication," says team mentor Soon-Jo Chung, Bren Professor of Aerospace. "Our Caltech undergraduate students worked tirelessly during the pandemic and produced the first modular design implementation of EDS that can be combined like LEGO blocks. I am immensely proud of their achievements." Chung mentored the team along with Caltech's Michael Mello (PhD '12), teaching professor of mechanical and civil engineering; Jason Kastner (PhD '03) and Manan Arya (MS '12, PhD '16) of JPL, which Caltech manages for NASA; former JPL director Charles Elachi (MS '69, PhD '71), professor of electrical engineering and planetary science, emeritus; and Richard Abbott, CDS Group hardware lead at Caltech-LIGO.
Read more about HOMES here.
Render of the HOMES tile
credit: Caltech HOMES team