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NASA's Robotic Lander Performs Second Free-Flight Test

By Kim Newton, 256-544-0034
NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, Ala.
Kimberly.D.Newton@nasa.gov

June 22, 2011: On Thursday, June 16, NASA's Robotic Lander Development Project at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. conducted the second free-flight test of a robotic lander prototype. During test, the lander successfully executed its planned flight profile, autonomously ascending to a six-foot hover and descending to conduct a controlled soft landing.

The lander, loaded with 220 lbs. of hydrogen peroxide propellant, operated on two sensors -- the inertial measurement unit, which tracks the lander's accelerations and the direction it's pointed, and the radar altimeter, which measures its altitude. With each test flight the lander is stabilizing, flying longer and demonstrating its control algorithms can maintain a stable attitude and execute a soft landing using the system's pulsing thrusters.

This test series illustrates the lander team's ability to control the vehicle using pulsed, not throttled, thrusters. One of the key technologies planned for use in the final flight lander design is a set of small, powerful, pulsed thrusters developed for the Divert Attitude Control System (DACS) by the U.S. Missile Defense Agency of the Department of Defense.

The prototype also provides a platform to develop and test sensors, avionics, software, landing legs, and integrated system elements to support autonomous landings on airless planetary bodies in the solar system, where aero-braking and parachutes are not options. These tests will aid in the design and development of a new generation of small, smart, versatile robotic landers capable of performing science and exploration research at multiple destinations in the solar system.

More free flight tests are planned that could potentially take the lander up to 100 feet and last up to 60 seconds.

Development and integration of the lander prototype is a cooperative endeavor led by the Robotic Lunar Lander Development Project at the Marshall Center, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, and the Von Braun Center for Science and Innovation, which includes the Science Applications International Corporation, Dynetics Corp., Teledyne Brown Engineering Inc., and Millennium Engineering and Integration Company, all of Huntsville.

The Planetary Science Division of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington directs the project.

The project is partnered with the U.S. Army's Test and Evaluation Command's test center located at Redstone Arsenal. Redstone Test Center is one of six centers under the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command and has been a leading test facility for defense systems since the 1950's. Utilizing an historic test site at the Arsenal, the project is leveraging the Redstone Test Center's advanced capability for propulsion testing.

Last Updated: 22 June 2011

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Last Updated: 22 Jun 2011