NIFTY: FAST lets lunar landers make their own landing pads pre-touchdown.

Being developed in collaboration with Honeybee Robotics, Texas A&M University, and the University of Central Florida under a Phase 1 NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts award, the in-Flight Alumina Spray Technique (FAST) project has completed its year-long preliminary study of the concept.

In FAST, alumina ceramic particles are injected into the rocket plume as the lander descends. These particles coat the surface beneath the lander, consolidating the regolith into a hard pad that has more thermal and ablation resistance. This protects the lander not only during descent, but also when it takes off again to return to lunar orbit.

To make this idea work, Masten and its partners explored the best thickness for the pad, how to determine how the ceramic particles will stick together, how they will survive the heat inside the rocket plume, what the best deposit rate should be, how the particles will adhere to the regolith to form the solid pad while the lander hovers above, and how effective the pad would be in stopping cratering and dust scattering.

In addition, the team conducted hot-fire landing simulation tests using Masten’s vertical takeoff and landing rockets. From these tests, it was determined that the idea is feasible even for a craft as large as the Artemis crew lander and that the pad building can be controlled by the size and temperature of the engine plume.

Previously: How will NASA deal with the moon dust problem for Artemis lunar landings?

Mars, too.