This research established methods of physical testing and analysis to characterize damage to a lander caused by rocket-propelled regolith during powered operations on or near the surface of the Moon, Mars, and other worlds. An emphasis was placed on using commonly available test materials to help lower cost.
Lift-off using different thrusts were conducted in atmosphere from simulated planetary regolith. Testing was conducted with a scale model of a recent commercial lander with functioning scale rocket analogues using compressed gas as a propellant. This enabled testing to be safer and more cost-effective compared to operating rockets that burned fuel.
Methods of quantifying and interpreting potential impact and abrasion damage and dust covering were established using crushable foam plates, adhesive coverings, and selective color processing of test result images.
This testing can be an important and valuable step in a wider testing program to identify key design revisions before incurring the expense and risk to equipment from testing rocket and regolith interactions in a vacuum facility. This testing requires an awareness of the effects of scale and the limits of testing in atmosphere compared to the lower pressure or vacuum at the intended landing site.