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Autonomous Robotic Lander Platform enhances its navigation capabilities

by Russel 2011-12-12 15:15

NASA works on the new generation of versatile robotic landers to achieve scientific and exploration goals on the surface of the moon and other airless celestial bodies, including near-Earth asteroids. NASA's robotic Lander Test Bed conducts test activities to prove the design of small, smart self navigating robotic landers. The prototype lander has the capability to launch, descend and land safely on its own, without human operator in the loop, demonstrating the lander's autonomous and reusable capability. The robotic platform has proven its ability for a fully autonomous, closed-loop reliable and repeatable flight missions. The challenge for navigation in the outer space is that the GPS satellite constellations such as GNSS or GLONASS easily available for autonomous vehicle navigation and onboard command center systems are not yet developed for Moon, Mars or asteroids. The highly efficient guidance systems using GPS altimeter, course compass units and other GPS enabled sensors, receivers, radars and antenna arrays will not be able to receive high precision GPS information in the outer space. New methods of navigation are designed for the lander prototype which is getting ready for enhanced tests of its navigation capabilities. The new platform will include lander's guidance, navigation and control instruments and artificial intelligence complex algorithms to provide stable control of the lander in less than favorable weather conditions.

Nasa robotic lander flightThe prototype is small and efficient as future exploration platform is expected to be with primary goal of developing and delivering a practical, low-cost, highly versatile universal lander that will expand the frontiers of automated research and discovery across the solar system. During the hundred foot flight test, the lander autonomously flew for half a minute. The Mighty Eagle ascended to 100 feet, hovered and then demonstrated the equivalent of an autonomous maneuvering and landing on the lunar surface. The final maneuver simulated the required descent approach by horizontally translating 30 feet while descending and landing on target. The test demonstrated the lander's ability to maneuver to avoid hazards before performing a controlled, safe landing. 

Universal lander platform robotic prototype platform parameters are close to and resemble an actual flight lander design. It is 4 feet tall and 8 feet in diameter weighting 700 pounds when fueled with 90 percent hydrogen peroxide, which has an extremely low freezing point suited for long missions in the icy reaches of outer space. The lander receives its commands from an onboard computer control and navigation center that activates sixteen onboard pulsed thrusters. One of them is a gravity canceling instantly engaged thruster. Fully orchestrated by the onboard command center the thrusters array carries the robotic platform to a controlled landing using a pre-programmed flight profile. 

Nasa Robotic Lander prototype ready for autonomous flightThe prototype serves as a platform to develop and test software algorithms, sensor arrays, avionics instruments, landing gears, and integrated system elements to support autonomous maneuvering on airless planetary bodies, where aero-braking and parachutes could not be used. The navigation system provides guidance for the lander without human pilot intervention. The embedded navigator control center integrates variety of diverse sensors and could figure out the complex artificial intelligence algorithms necessary to process high volumes of data received in real time from the laser altimeter, GPS receivers, micro miniature  solid state and inertial gyroscopes. The integration interfaces could also accommodate infrared imageless and all weather computer vision system. 

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