Friday, March 11, 2016

Swamp Fever

A demonstration of Swamp Works regolith mitigation technology. Video source: Backyard Astronomy Guy YouTube channel.

Earlier this week, I was part of a group touring the Kennedy Space Center Engineering & Development Lab, commonly known as the Swamp Works.

The name is a homage to the famous Lockheed Skunk Works that began in 1943 in Burbank, California. According to the Lockheed Martin web site, the name was derived from the moonshine factory in the Lil' Abner comic strip.

A team engineer named Irv Culver was a fan of Al Capp's newspaper comic strip, “Li'l Abner,” in which there was a running joke about a mysterious and malodorous place deep in the forest called the "Skonk Works." There, a strong beverage was brewed from skunks, old shoes and other strange ingredients.

One day, Culver's phone rang and he answered it by saying “Skonk Works, inside man Culver speaking.” Fellow employees quickly adopted the name for their mysterious division of Lockheed. “Skonk Works” became “Skunk Works.”

The original Skunk Works team was working on a secret Army jet fighter project. They “broke the rules, challenging the current bureaucratic system that stifled innovation and hindered progress.”

It was in that tradition that the KSC EDL dubbed itself Swamp Works.

Many of the technologies I saw demonstrated were projects related to potential use with lunar or Mars regolith.

A simple example, demonstrated in the above video, was how to automatically remove dust and regolith from solar panels. The answer was to run an electrical current through the surface.

Photography was largely restricted, as many projects are in partnership with private companies and educational institutions testing proprietary technologies.

Videos of some projects exist on the Internet. Another example is this asteroid lander prototype.

An asteroid lander prototype demonstration. Video source: Public Domain TV YouTube channel.

You can take a virtual tour of the Swamp Works lab by going to this web page and then clicking on the image of the technology you wish to explore.

A 2013 NASA video demonstrating the RASSOR regolith excavator. Video source: NASA Observatory YouTube channel.

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