Dometic helps NASA with lunar air conditioning

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Dometic Corp. announced that it completed installation of an air conditioning system in a new second-generation lunar electric rover (LER II) being built by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The LER II functions as a test bed for future moon exploration, either manned or unmanned.

Dometic’s automotive business unit in Richmond, Va., is a supplier of auxiliary air conditioning technology for the U.S. trucking industry. The company designed, developed, manufactured and installed the air conditioning for the rover under a contract awarded by the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston.

“We’ve had a lot of ‘firsts’ during our more than 50 years in building air conditioning systems for extreme environments, but this custom job presented special challenges for our engineers,” says Lou Siegel, spokesman for Dometic’s trucking business unit. “The lunar rovers are being tested in Arizona, so the system has to keep the NASA scientists and their test equipment cool and dry under extreme temperatures and high-dust conditions. In addition, the rover vehicle driver’s station and payload compartment are fully sealed, so all hoses, ducts and wiring must pass through pressurized bulkheads.”

The 10,000 BTU/hr air conditioning system includes a compressor/condenser module in the rover’s undercarriage and an evaporator unit in the overhead of the driver’s “bubble” up front, with cool air ducted to the compartment behind. It also includes Dometic’s Q-Logic CAN bus controls and a custom-designed condensate removal system with self-priming pumps. The system runs on the rover’s 300V DC electric power supply, converted to 115V AC to drive the air conditioner.

The LER II vehicle is about the size of a large pickup truck and has 12 wheels, which can pivot 360 degrees, permitting the rover to travel in any direction, including inclines up to 40 degrees. NASA tests robotics for space exploration in places, such as the Arizona desert, that closely simulate the terrain of the moon or planets. These LER tests are being conducted by a team of NASA engineers who call themselves the Desert RATS (Desert Research and Technology Studies).

NASA built its own air conditioning for the first-generation rover and learned the importance of historical knowledge and depth of experience. Dometic says it was selected by the agency after extensive market study as a supplier with the knowledge base necessary for a successful project.

“Kudos to our talented engineering staff for their hard work and dedication in developing innovative solutions to meet NASA’s rigorous technical specifications and safety requirements for this unusual test vehicle,” says Charlie Barefoot, global development director, air conditioning for Dometic Group. “It’s very satisfying to know that in our own small way we are making a contribution to future space exploration.”