Team Engages in NASA’s Artemis Program Mission

NASA selected the University of Virginia School of Engineering to develop and demonstrate a laser technology that will power exploration on the dark side of the Moon, one of eight teams to receive funding for concept development through NASA’s competitive Breakthrough, Innovative and Game-changing (BIG) Idea Challenge. NASA selected concepts that could benefit its Artemis program, to study the Moon ahead of a human landing in 2024 or help establish a sustained presence by 2028.

The UVA Engineering team presented their design and proof-of-concept testing results for Beaming of Energy via Laser for Lunar Exploration (BELLE) of Permanently Shadowed Craters during NASA’s BIG Idea Forum on January 6, 2021. The team earned superlatives from the panel of judges for best technical poster and best technical demonstration.

Lunar craters can extend to 10 to 20 miles wide and can be up to a mile deep, where temperatures are around minus 350 degrees Fahrenheit. BELLE uses solar arrays stationed on the crater’s rim to provide energy to a laser, which transmits power to the rover and other systems in the crater for exploration and also to keep electronics and instruments warm. This power relay requires illuminating solar panels that match the laser’s wavelength, as well as autonomous feedback and control systems between the laser and the rover over ten or more miles. In this way, BELLE can energize systems operating in the darkness without those systems having to leave the crater or carry their own power sources.

Mool Gupta, UVA Langley Distinguished Professor at the National Institute of Aerospace and a faculty member of the Charles L. Brown Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, leads the team that built the prototype. Paul Jaffe, lead electronics engineer for the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory’s power beaming and space solar portfolio, serves as the team’s industry advisor.