About TREX

Toolbox for Research and Exploration (TREX) is a node of NASA’s Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI). Amanda Hendrix of Planetary Science Institute (Tucson, AZ) is the TREX Principal Investigator. 

TREX aims to develop tools and research methods for exploration of airless surfaces in preparation for human and robotic in situ resource utilization (ISRU) missions. TREX uses laboratory (hereafter “lab”) spectral measurements and experiments, accompanied by studies of existing data from the Moon and small bodies, to understand their surface characteristics (including composition, thermal attributes, material sizes and shapes, and space weathering effects), and to investigate ISRU potential (emphasizing H2O for fuel and drinking, and for oxygen to breathe).

Using this knowledge, our team will develop decision-making software and research methods for future robotic and/or human use at those bodies. Finally, our team will test the efficacy of these software tools, along with testing ultraviolet (UV)-visible spectral instrumentation at locations on the Earth mimicking expected lunar and small body surface conditions.

TREX studies place an emphasis on fine grains and their spectral and physical properties. The tools developed in TREX studies will decrease risk to future missions by improving mission success and assuring the safety of astronauts, their instruments and spacecraft. The TREX tasks complement those of current SSERVI teams, and augment the work of those teams by emphasizing analyses of the finest fraction of grains while extending spectral coverage to UV wavelengths.

The TREX tasks are grouped into 4 themes:

  • Theme 2: Investigations of fine-grained materials on the lunar surface.
    lead: Maria Banks
    The tasks in this theme are driven by the need for a comprehensive suite of measurements, covering the UV through mid-infrared (MIR) wavelengths, of fine-grained planetary and candidate planetary materials, measured in vacuum over a range of temperatures. Moon is the only Solar System body humans have visited, and a likely future human destination. In this Theme, we will use the lab data from Theme 1, along with spacecraft data of the Moon and modeling techniques, to characterize lunar grain size, mineralogy, thermal attributes, space weathering effects, and correlations with geologic features – with an overall goal of addressing ISRU and future instrument development needs.
  • Theme 3: Investigations of fine-grained materials on the surfaces of small bodies.
    lead: Deborah Domingue
    Near- Earth Objects (NEOs) and the Martian moons are potential ISRU and human destinations. They evoke a number of critical questions regarding the diversity of their compositions and dynamical histories. In this Theme, we will use the lab data from Theme 1 along with modeling and spacecraft and ground-based data on small bodies to characterize their regolith grain size, mineralogy, thermal attributes, and space weathering effects – with an overall goal of addressing ISRU and future instrument development needs.
  • Theme 4: Decision–making in a fine-grained analog environment.
    lead: Eldar Noe Dobrea
    In this Theme, we will use both software and instrumentation as tools in the field in a testing environment for future robotic surface applications. We will test human/robotic interaction with hardware-bearing rovers coupled with scientist interaction. The software will address autonomous sample selection, and will be tested on field trips to “small body-like” sites on Earth, including the phyllosilicate-rich Painted Desert and a loess (glacial “flour”) site. Additionally, our team will test – for the first time – UV instrumentation for in situ applications. UV spectroscopy has been shown to be valuable for volatiles (e.g. H2O) and organics detections, and would be an ideal technique for usage on future Moon or small body rovers or landers.