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people working on rocket pad
Artemis Generation building 3D rocket pad.

Moon landings can be risky and blind, due to billowing dust clouds. To assure future successful missions, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) issued a challenge to colleges and universities across the nation to propose a plan to launch and land spacecraft on the Moon’s surface without blowing dust and debris on sensitive equipment.

Murai headshot
Vincent Murai

The challenge was met by a team of undergraduate students from 10 colleges and universities that convened during NASA’s L’SPACE (Lucy Student Pipeline Accelerator and Competency Enabler) Virtual Academy, which was held in summer 2019.

Vincent Murai of Kapiʻolani Community College was the only student from Hawaiʻi and only one of two students from a two-year college to make that team, which became known as the Artemis Generation.

“I like being a lab rat for new ideas, so I went for it,” Murai said about his decision to apply for L’SPACE. “Little did I know how important that decision would be.”

Flowering design

The team built a subscale prototype pad using cement-based material and a gantry print system developed by ICON, a 3D printing and robotics company. Eventually, the landing pad could be made from fine, powdery material found on the Moon, called lunar regolith.

rocket pad
Student designed 3D rocket pad.

The team’s design, called the Lunar Plume Alleviation Device (PAD), addresses the problems caused when the force of a rocket’s powerful exhaust contacts the dusty lunar surface. The Lunar PAD uses a series of petal-like channels that send exhaust upward and outward, minimizing the volume of dust expelled during launch and landing.

“It’s very practical, very efficient, and just so happens to also be very beautiful,” Murai said. He plans to earn an associate in science degree with a concentration in engineering from Kapiʻolani CCthis semester, and is already taking classes at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, where he will major in mechanical engineering with a focus on sustainability.

The team worked hundreds of hours in collaboration with NASA subject-matter experts, beginning with a concept, moving to formulation and eventually to a preliminary design.

ICON’s Head of Design Michael McDaniel said, “This is the first milestone on the journey to making off-world construction a reality, which will allow humanity to stay—not just visit the stars.”

—By Louise Yamamoto

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