In 2022, LSU will be the first university in the world to put science and research technology on the moon.
The Tiger Eye 1 research mission is part of a multidisciplinary university-industry collaboration to make future space travel safer for people and equipment by providing insight into the complex radiation environment in space. LSU’s radiation detection device is now officially on the manifest for the broader IM-1 mission, the first in a series of commercial flights and the first-ever to land on the moon that will bring science and technology to the lunar surface through NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative. This will be the first time the U.S. lands on the moon since 1972 and the Apollo program.
Students in five different LSU colleges and schools are leading the charge under the direction of assistant professor Jeffery Chancellor in the LSU Department of Physics & Astronomy, head of its Space Radiation Transport & Applied Nuclear, or SpaRTAN, lab. All are undergraduate seniors from Louisiana:
Katie Hostetler, of Zachary, is a graphic designer who creates art for LSU Athletics and this spring came up with the winning design for the Tiger Eye 1 mission patch; she’s double-majoring in religious studies in the LSU School of Art + Design and the LSU College of Humanities & Social Sciences. She graduates in December.
Haley Pellegrin, of Bourg, is a LaSpace Undergraduate Research Fellow and member of the SpaRTAN lab where she develops new technologies to make better radiation shielding in the LSU College of Science. She graduates this month.
Jacob Miller, of Crowley, is an electrical engineering major who builds new devices for medical applications in the LSU College of Engineering and the Roger Hadfield Ogden Honors College. He graduates in December.
“We’re immensely proud of the LSU students leading this work on the frontier of science, technology, art and the human imagination,” said Samuel J. Bentley, vice president of research and economic development. “It’s been incredible to see and support all of LSU coming together to move this mission forward. There should be no barriers to expertise, and this university-industry collaboration is a great example of how the caliber of our students and researchers can advance projects of critical importance to our nation.”
“This student-led, cross-campus collaboration reinforces LSU’s impact on space exploration and planetary science,” said Cynthia Peterson, dean of the LSU College of Science. “As we prepare to put people on the moon again in 2024, we must not only understand what it takes to protect our astronauts, but also what is required to perform science experiments in a space environment and safeguard the technologies needed to conduct the research.”
Through its medical and health physics program and the SpaRTAN lab, LSU helps agencies and companies understand background radiation in space, one of the hard limits on how much time people and equipment can spend out there, beyond the Earth’s protective magnetic field. Understanding the types and amounts of radiation that exist on the moon will be key to establishing a sustainable human presence on Earth’s nearest neighbor as well as traveling to Mars. The data brought back by Tiger Eye 1 will further the SpaRTAN lab’s research on improved radiation shielding in both materials and design.
The IM in IM-1 stands for Intuitive Machines, a Houston-based company pioneering humanity’s next step — returning the U.S. to the surface of the moon. IM holds NASA and commercial payload contracts for two separate lunar landings through IM-1 in the first quarter of 2022 and IM-2 in the fourth quarter to help pave the way for the Artemis program, which will put the first woman and the first person of color on the moon as early as 2024.
The CLPS flights are all uncrewed and will make use of rovers and robots to conduct science experiments and test technologies in different areas on the lunar surface. Intuitive Machines is providing the vehicle, communication network and mission operations center for LSU’s device to safely land on the moon and effectively conduct research.
IM’s Nova-C lunar lander will be launched from a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The solar battery-driven vehicle will spend two weeks on the surface before succumbing to lunar night, not far from Tranquility Base where Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first walked on the moon in July 1969 during the Apollo 11 mission.
For Hostetler, the design of the mission patch didn’t feel as new as it felt familiar. In a recent LSU Art + Design profile, she shared how her first opportunity to send art into space actually arrived already in fifth grade.
“It was a contest to design a flag to go into space and I was really far ahead in the contest but ended up in second place,” Hostetler said. “So, when my professor, Courtney Barr, came to me with the Tiger Eye 1 opportunity, I was like, ‘Fifth-grade me would be proud.’ My mom was especially excited.”
Barr recruited seven undergraduate and graduate art students to come up with 19 different design ideas for the space patch. After careful vetting and input from the other students on his team, Chancellor chose one of Hostetler’s designs, which features a fierce but protective tiger eye overlooking a spacecraft landing on the moon, because he appreciated the symbolism and also because “it looked awesome.”
“The patch is an important symbol because it includes everyone on the team,” Chancellor said. “Folks like Danielle Cintron, Darya Courville, Greg Trahan, Shemeka Law and countless others at LSU have worked really hard behind the scenes to make Tiger Eye 1 possible. Space missions do not happen entirely in a vacuum and the patch itself helps to represent that idea.”
“I came up with a few different versions, but I’m so glad he picked this one; it’s my favorite,” Hostetler said.
With an eye on IM-2, Chancellor expects to call on Hostetler and the LSU Art + Design team again soon. Intuitive Machines will bring an ice drill and use a small drone ship to explore hard-to-reach areas on the moon and test the Nokia 4G LTE network, while LSU is considering sending up a larger and more robust radiation detector, based on lessons to be learned on IM-1.
When it comes to shielding materials and design, the vast spectrum of radiation in space doesn’t lend itself to easy or particularly intuitive solutions. Adding more shielding or encasing everything in lead isn’t an option in space. Not only would this add too much mass and cost; shielding in the wrong place could also slow down the radiation particles to the extent they’d get “trapped” inside the space vehicle or the human body, causing devastating damage to astronauts and equipment.
Sometimes minimal shielding is the safest option and the LSU SpaRTAN lab’s research will continue to help the aerospace industry find out exactly where, when and how to effectively use it.
“The two main barriers for human spaceflight are propulsion — how to get there faster — and how to protect humans and equipment from radiation,” said retired Col. Jack “2fish” Fischer, astronaut and vice president of strategic programs at Intuitive Machines. “Without the shielding and radiation modeling LSU is helping to develop, the radiation effects on crews and equipment during deep space exploration would be catastrophic.”
“Using Jeff Chancellor’s ability to model this stuff and figure out what kind of shielding to use and where to put it, we see a future where it will be much easier and cheaper to go into space because we could open the lunar and space economy to a global supply chain,” Fischer continued. “We could put commercial, off-the-shelf technology out there and lessen the dependency on expensive, overdesigned solutions. The radiation data we’ll get on IM-1 will change the equation of what’s possible in space.”
As the Tiger Eye 1 team works to get everything ready for launch, something else just came up — the LSU SpaRTAN lab will be flying yet another radiation detector on SpaceX’s Inspiration4 mission using their Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Dragon spacecraft this September, in collaboration with Pinsky. That mission includes Hayley Arceneaux, who went to school in West Feliciana. It will launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and be the world’s first all-commercial, all-civilian mission to space. It will circle the Earth before making a soft water landing off the Florida coast.