ISRO has got the patent for made in India Moon Soil: Check how it will help in moon travel?
ISRO the Indian Space Research Organisation has got patent for the method of manufacturing artificial moon soil in India. In 2014, ISRO applied for patent rights and after thorough processing, the patent was granted on 18 May, 2020.
As discussed ISRO obtained patent for producing Moon soil on Earth. To produce Regolith it is necessary to gain patent. Let us tell you that all the procedures that are required have been fulfilled to start with the process of generating and producing the lunar soil stimulant. All the necessary factors are found by ISRO including mineralogy, grain size distribution, bulk chemistry and geo-mechanical properties, as per the patent application.
Before going in detail about Moon soil and patent story, let us first study about the surface of the Moon.
Moon surface has two hemispheres with rather asymmetric properties. The surface of the Moon that we see from the Earth is substantially different from the surface that we are not able to see or is always hidden from the Earth. Therefore, it can be classified into two namely Near Side and Far Side.
The surface of the Moon that is turned towards us is known as the near side and further, it is divided into two; light areas and the dark area. You might have noticed that when we see Moon with the naked eye, we can see some bright and dark areas on its surface. Light areas are known as the Lunar Highlands whereas the darker areas are known as Maria or Mara which means 'seas'.
Maria or Mara basically is lower in altitude than the Highlands. In Maria, the dark material that is filled is dark due to solidified lava from the earlier periods of lunar volcanism. Both Maria and the Highlands have large craters which are the result of meteor impacts. Several other craters are also found in Highlands due to the impact of craters.
On the other hand, if we talk about Far Side of the Moon which is unseen from the Earth. According to one of the discoveries of the first Lunar orbiters, the far side of the Moon has very different appearance as compared to the near side of the Moon. In particular, on the far side of the Moon, Maria are not found or Maria are not there. According to the reports, the surface of the Moon comprises 80% of 'Highlands' which are the treacherous areas on the surface of the moon with craters, cavities and mountains.
As we know that Chandrayaan-2 Moon Mission of ISRO objective was to land on the lunar South Pole that is to do the soft landing. Chandrayaan-2 has Orbiter, Lander and Rover. The main aim of the mission was not just to study one area of the Moon but all the areas combining the exosphere, the surface as well as the sub-surface of the moon in a single mission. On the other hand, Chandrayaan-1 consists of the only Orbiter and was launched by PSLV vehicle.
But, India lost contact with the Lander (Vikram) and Rover (Pragyan) just a few kilometres before the surface of the moon but Chandrayaan-2, the orbiter is working properly from the space.
Why Scientists targeted the Lunar South Pole for exploration?
Moon provides the best linkage to the Earth's early history. It consists of an undistributed historical record of the Inner Solar system environment. To study variations in the surface of the moon were essential to trace back the origin and evolution of Moon and so extensive mapping of the lunar surface. How can we forget the discovery of Chandrayaan-1 that is the evidence of water molecules and so it further required studies on the extent of a water molecule on the surface, below the surface and in the tenuous lunar exosphere to address the origin of water on the Moon.
On the other hand, the South Pole of the Moon is interesting because the lunar surface area that remains in shadows is much larger than that at the North Pole. There could be a possibility of the presence of water in permanently shadowed areas around it. Also, the South Pole of the Moon has craters that are cold traps and contain a fossil record of the early Solar System.
Now, let us study about the patenting of Moon Soil
In Bengaluru, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) established a proto-Lunar Terrain Test Facility (LTTF) as its advanced satellite testing unit, ISITE. This was done by modifying a balloon research lab, about 30-40 m high, long and wide. At that time, ISRO was grappling with the task of indigenously executing the cryogenic stage for its GSLV MkII rocket. No doubt sending a moon Lander was a distant dream of low priority. Therefore, to realise the dream, equipping the LTTF and making it look and feel like being on the Moon was the first challenge. For this, there was the need for lunar 'soil' which consists of almost all features and texture, lunar temperatures, low gravity and the same amount of sunlight as on the moon.
As an option for recreating the terrain, ISRO was to import lunar soil-like substance from the U.S and it was a costly affair. Therefore, ISRO was looking for a local solution as its need was about 60/70 tonnes of Soil.
The retired Director, U.R. Rao Satellite Centre (URSC), formerly ISRO Satellite Centre, M. Annadurai told that "The surface of the earth and that of the moon are entirely different. So we had to make a man-made moon surface and test our rover and lander”.
Various Geologists had told ISRO that near Salem in Tamil Nadu, there were "anorthosite" rocks and its soil would be similar to the features of Moon soil or regolith. Further, the ISRO finalised to take the 'anorthosite' rocks from the Sithampoondi and Kunnamali villages in Tail Nadu for moon soil. Annadurai also told that these rocks were crushed into the required size and moved to Lunar Terrain Test Facility, Bengaluru and the test bed was created.
Let us tell you that the lunar soil simulant can be used for various purposes including scientific studies of lunar terrain relating to mobility or trafficability of rover for scientific explorations, for the study of geotechnical or mechanical properties of lunar soil for understanding the engineering behaviour of lunar regolith or to carry out fundamental research work whether theoretical and experimental to postulate a broad design philosophy for realising civil engineering structures on the surface of the Moon and also to make a pathway to lunar locomotive engineering.
What are Anorthosites?
Anorthosites are a type of intrusive igneous rock made up of calcium-rich plagioclase feldspar. It is found on Earth and consists of coarse crystals. Most of the anorthosites are formed during Precambrian times. Let us tell you that the anorthosites that are common in the Lunar Highlands are not common on the Earth surface. The Adirondack Mountains and the Canadian Shield are exceptions. On Earth, they form the ancient cores of continents, but largely wiped out by overlying sedimentary deposits and by plate tectonic activity.
The rocks of Highlands are largely Anorthosite, which is a kind of igneous rocks that are generated when lava cools more slowly than in the case of basalts.
No doubt, ISRO has successfully found a solution to replicate highlands but other countries have created moon soil which is generally found in the flat regions of the Moon.
According to ISRO Chief K. Sivan, this new progress of the space agency will ensure successful soft landing of Chandrayaan-3 rover through a sustainable preparation stimulus. As per ISRO, the Chandrayaan-3, the third mission to Moon is expected to launch in the first half of 2021. It will have a lander and a rover, unlike the Chandrayaan-2 which also constituted an orbiter along with a lander and a rover.
So, this is about Moon’s surface, Chandrayaan-2 and Chandryaan-3 mission and about the patenting the Moon Soil and how it will help in Moon travel.