SFU researcher leads team for lunar rover exploration mission

Dr. Behraad Bahreyni and team will develop tools critical for space mission

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PHOTO: Neven Krcmarek / Unsplash

Written by: Harvin Bhathal, Peak Associate

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) announced plans for future lunar exploration. On May 26, 2021, the CSA declared a team of researchers from SFU, the University of Manitoba, and McGill University will develop the micro-instruments to be used by a newly-designed Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV).

Led by associate professor Dr. Behraad Bahreyni from SFU’s School of Mechatronic Systems Engineering, the project aims to expand upon existing knowledge about the moon’s seismicity (earthquake activity) and address unanswered questions regarding its geophysical properties. 

According to Dr. Bahreyni, “The most valuable geophysical data regarding the subsurface structure of a planetary body are obtained from seismic and gravity measurements.” 

These measurements will be done by miniaturized seismometers, which detect and respond to movements in the ground, and gravimeters, which measure the downward acceleration of gravity. These instruments will be integrated into a hybrid gravimeter and seismometer system developed by Dr. Bahreyni’s team. He describes this as “a key differentiator” in comparison to previous LRV projects. They will be mounted onto the rover.

SFU’s 4D LABS will produce the prototypes, and SFU’s Centre for Natural Hazard Research (CNHR) will develop new approaches to measure and monitor geophysical hazards on the moon.

Through “the joint measure and modelling of seismic and gravity signals,” scientists will be able to accurately image subsurface structures.

The data they aim to collect includes “moon tides, mantle/core dynamics, active fault structures, gas/liquid reservoirs, mineral deposits, hydrothermal systems, and volcanism.

“Besides deepening our knowledge about the moon and its seismicity, we will learn about the mineral composition of its crust,” he said. “In the long term, similar methods may be used on Mars or other planets in search of resources needed for [habitation] (e.g. water ice).”

When considering the geophysical properties essential for human settlement, a critical factor is access to water sources. Dr. Bahreyni added, “The devices developed through this project can help with identification of water ice reservoirs beneath the surface of planetary bodies.”

Previous LRV missions studying the geophysical properties of the moon were limited by “the size and weight of conventional [instruments that] have prohibited their use in space missions.” In addition, “remote measurements of gravitational forces have limited spatial resolution and mostly provide information on topography.

“Once these devices are fabricated, we need to spend time calibrating them against standard equipment and also include measures to ensure they survive launch [ . . . ] We are glad that we could bring together the necessary expertise from across Canada to address these multitude of challenges,” said Dr. Bahreyni.

He and his team are working with seismologists and space scientists including SFU professor and co-director of CNHR, Dr. Glyn Williams-Jones. University of Manitoba’s Dr. Pooneh Maghoul and Dr. Philip Ferguson, and McGill University’s Dr. Yajing Liu will also join Dr. Bahreyni. Along with the doctors, eight postgraduate researchers from across Canada will join the team.

The CSA’s plans for lunar exploration include putting a rover on the moon by 2026.

“We are hoping to be a part of that mission, but we are also cautious that conducting leading edge research brings with itself uncertainties.”