The Colorado Center for Lunar Dust and Atmospheric Studies (CCLDAS) is focused on: a) experimental and theoretical investigations of dusty plasma and impact processes; b) the development of new instrument concepts for future in situ dust and plasma measurements on the surface and in orbit about the Moon; and c) a complementary program of education and community development. CCLDAS addresses basic physical and applied lunar science questions, including the long-term usability of mechanical and optical devices on the Moon. CCLDAS is supporting the development of the Lunar Dust Experiment (LDEX), an in situ impact dust detector to be flown on the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) mission scheduled to be launched in 2013.

CCLDAS is a truly interdisciplinary program with researchers, faculty and students from four academic departments at the University of Colorado: Physics, Aerospace Engineering, Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences. CCLDAS includes partners at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, two small businesses in Boulder, Colorado — Tech-X and Zybek, and no-cost international partners from Germany and Belgium. Our co-investigators represent a wide spectrum in career stages from young assistant professors to leading scientists from the Apollo era.

The experimental research program involves a series of small-scale (< 30 cm) tabletop experiments housed in the Dusty Plasma Laboratory (DPL), and also a large-scale (> 1 m) experimental setup, which includes the development of a 3 MV electrostatic dust accelerator for impact studies, housed in the Lunar Environment and Impact Laboratory (LEIL). LEIL is the cornerstone of our experimental setups, capable of simulating the lunar surface environment, including variable plasma conditions, solar wind, UV radiation, and dust impacts on a dusty regolith surface. The facility is now available for the testing and calibration of plasma and dust instruments, including LDEX for the LADEE mission.

Theoretical and modeling studies complement the DPL and LEIL work by addressing the properties of the UV-generated plasma sheath and its interaction with the solar wind plasma flow, and the role of 3D topography in the possible formation of dust ponds, which have been clearly identified in images returned by the NEAR mission on its final approach to the asteroid Eros.

The development of new instrumentation concepts includes the laboratory fabrication and test of the Electrostatic Lunar Dust Experiment (ELDA), capable of detecting slow-moving (< 100 m/s) dust particles, and a Dust Telescope (DT), which is a combination of a dust trajectory sensor and a chemical composition analyzer to measure hypervelocity (>> km/s) interplanetary and interstellar dust impacts on the lunar surface.

CCLDAS research goals remain focused on the processes involved with the atmosphere and dust environment of the Moon accessible for scientific study while the environment remains in a pristine state, one of the high priority science concepts (#8) identified by the National Research Council. CCLDAS research is directed towards the SCEM science goal 8b: Determine the size, charge, and spatial distribution of electrostatically transported dust grains and assess their likely effects on lunar exploration and lunar-based astronomy.

CCLDAS strongly supports future human exploration, as the understanding of the dusty plasma processes can provide a scientific basis for finding effective and economical mitigation strategies for dust hazards. The lunar surface will remain a difficult working environment for humans, and a challenging place to maintain the long-term use of optical and mechanical devices due to dust, UV, and plasma effects.
CCLDAS is active in the training the of the next generation of multidisciplinary lunar scientists involving graduate, undergraduate and even high school students in science and engineering projects, involving students from a number of departments across different colleges within the university, including the Physics, Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences, Aerospace, and Civil Engineering.

Read the team summary report for years 1-3

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The lunar "dust" is made mostly of tiny jagged fragments of volcanic glass.

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