Space | 27. April 2022

Project MARE – to the Moon and back with Orion

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Credit: NASA
The uncrewed NASA mission Artemis I is set to fly to the Moon and back to Earth in 42 days with the Orion spacecraft

In summer 2022, the time will finally have come – our Matroshka AstroRad Radiation Experiment (MARE) will fly to the Moon and back with NASA’s Artemis I mission. We have been working towards this moment for several years and have had to live with the fact that space projects are frequently delayed. We have also had to contend with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. This presented us with new, major challenges when putting together the experiment.

MARE aims to measure radiation exposure during the lunar flight of the Orion capsule using two ‘non-human’ passengers, Helga and Zohar. These two female mannequins – measuring 95 centimetres tall – contain slices of plastic elements of different densities (38 to be precise). These simulate the bones and organs of the body, such as the lungs, stomach, uterus and bone marrow. Zohar will fly on the Orion Moon flight wearing an AstroRad protective vest; Helga will fly without protection. In this way, these two identical models will collect comparable data sets to enable the evaluation and improvement of the effectiveness of the protective vest.##markend##

Over the last few weeks, we have packed the MARE hardware into specially designed transport containers at the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine in Cologne. They ‘re now on their way to the NASA Kennedy Space Center (NASA KSC) in Florida. Our team will fly there around four weeks before the launch and prepare Helga and Zohar for installation in the uncrewed Orion spacecraft. Seventeen days before the launch, we will hand Helga and Zohar over to the care of the ground handling team, who will install these ‘measuring mannequins’ in the Orion space capsule. After that, it will just be a matter of waiting for the rocket launch. Fingers crossed that everything goes well with the 42-day flight, and that it lands safely!

As soon as Orion is back on Earth in Florida after its flight around the Moon, the DLR team will get to work dismantling Helga and Zohar in order to retrieve the data from DLR’s 16 inbuilt M-42 radiation measuring devices. If everything works according to our design and testing, the radiation measurements of the DLR M-42 instruments will begin when the rocket is launched, triggered by internal acceleration sensors. They will then record this data every five minutes throughout the mission. This spaceflight to the Moon will be the first time that we have measured space radiation levels for female astronauts in an Orion spacecraft.

There are more than 10,000 passive radiation sensors installed in Zohar and Helga, and we will have to wait for Orion to land before we can evaluate them. Only once the two mannequins return to our Cologne laboratory will we be able to read out the data using our evaluation devices. Sensors provided by our international partners will also be handed back to them for scientific investigation. All those involved will be kept busy for months evaluating the entire MARE experiment, so even when Orion’s spaceflight comes to an end our work will be far from over.

Before Helga and Zohar fly to the Moon and back on Orion – we hope successfully – a number of obstacles had to be overcome and many tests carried out.

In recent years, we have built several prototypes of the two seats in which Helga and Zohar will be positioned. In the case of non-human members of the crew, ‘seated’ means that they are attached into their seats, which are affixed to the floor of the spacecraft. Researchers at the DLR Institute of Space Systems in Bremen have checked the whole thing several times in vibration tests and were able to show that the vibrations during the rocket launch will have no effect on them. So, we are sure that Helga and Zohar will withstand the flight without any issues.

Credit: DLR (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)
Helga in her ‘seat’ during the final vibration tests at DLR in Bremen

Over the past few years, we have been developing, building and testing our M-42 DLR measuring devices, including on flights with the DLR MAPHEUS sounding rocket during the MAPHEUS-7, -8 and -10 missions. We vibrated the measuring devices, exposed them to a vacuum, calibrated them with heavy ions at the Heavy Ion Medial Accelerator (HIMAC) in Chiba, Japan, and tested the software of the measuring devices endlessly, modifying it as needed to be sure in the end that everything would ultimately work on the mission.

Credit: DLR (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)
Three flight models for the DLR M-42 measuring device and their batteries in our small vacuum chamber at the Department of Radiation Biology

We equipped Helga and Zohar with thousands of passive radiation detectors, contributed by partners from around the world. We installed these detectors at over 1400 measuring points inside the two mannequins. We hope that they will now provide us with extensive space radiation data from their lunar flight and allow us to extrapolate a 3D dosage distribution within the two measurement bodies.

Credit: DLR (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)
Zohar – consisting of 38 slices – after the installation of all the passive radiation detectors

In October 2019, we rehearsed the installation of phantoms Helga and Zohar in the Orion spacecraft during a fit check. We provided mannequins that were identical in size and weight. The ground handling team were able to install these in Orion without any issues.

Credit: © DLR
The DLR team at the fit check at NASA, JSC in October 2019

We have written an array of documents that describe and explain everything in great detail. We have successfully completed multiple safety assessments of all our tests and trials with NASA.

The MARE experiment is complex and was only possible with international cooperation. Now MARE is ready to fly to the Moon, around it and back to Earth on NASA’s Artemis I mission. The DLR team and I would like to thank our project partners and all members of staff for what they have achieved. We are ready to take-off!

 

 

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About the author

Thomas Berger is a physicist and heads the Biophysics working group in the Radiation Biology department at the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine. Together with his colleagues, he develops, builds and flies radiation measuring instruments into space. to authorpage