PISCES hosts international space teams


PISCES, the Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems, headquartered at the University of Hawai`i - Hilo, is playing a significant role in the space program, providing a unique forum for international collaboration on future missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond.

From Jan. 22 to Feb. 11, PISCES will bring together teams from NASA and the German and Canadian space agencies on Hawai`i's volcanic soil, which closely resembles the surfaces of the Moon and Mars. Here, they will test technology that will help astronauts live off the land and survive for long periods of time in space. In addition, there will be training exercises in space medicine, and college students from the U.S. and Canada will support many of the field tests. Commercial organizations including a group called Space Resources Canada also will be involved in the tests.

PISCES will hold the field tests on the lower slopes of Mauna Kea, at a site approved by the state and supported by a community-based Cultural Advisory Committee. PISCES also will work with the participating agencies to ensure the return of the site to its original state following the tests.

Activities at the test site will include the building of a spacecraft landing pad by three rovers that "communicate" and work together on actually building the landing pad. A project involving both Canadian and American teams features a system that detects water and oxygen that can be extracted from the soil and stored. This system operates on two rovers; the first one provides the drill, crusher and chemistry plant, and the second one carries the power and electronics.

Scientists will drill and analyze some soil at the test site, then use a solar concentrator to melt it down into a smooth substance that can be used on a landing pad. NASA will test a process that extracts oxygen from the lunar-like soil in the form of water or carbon monoxide, then recycles the reactants and stores the oxygen.

The German Space Agency (DLR) will test a system that uses a mechanical mole to dig down several meters beneath the surface and has sensors that provide measurements. The DLR and Hochschule Bremen will test a specialized rover with wheels that allow the rover to move sideways, like a crab, on rocky terrain.

The Hawai`i field tests highlight international collaboration on space research and technology to meet human needs for survival, transportation, communication, construction, and materials production. In addition to space agencies, companies conducting tests include the Northern Centre for Advanced Technology, Inc. (NORCAT), Virgin Technologies Inc., Xiphos Technologies, Inc., Electric Vehicle Controllers Ltd. (EVC), Neptec Design Group, Ontario Drive and Gear Ltd. (ODG), University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS), Orbitec, and Honeybee Robotics.

PISCES has arranged for speakers from NASA and other agencies to visit Hawai`i schools the week of Jan. 25. PISCES also has lined up a teacher workshop on the free, web-based education program, www.SpaceClass.org, to be held Monday, Feb. 8, 3-5 p.m., at the Institute for Astronomy Auditorium in the UH-Hilo Campus Technology Park.

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