Astrobotic Selected for NASA Award to Develop Sensor for Precise Planetary Landings

Credit: Astrobotic

Astrobotic’s precision landing sensor will unlock compelling new destinations on the Moon for science, exploration, and commerce.

PITTSBURGH, Pa. (Astrobotic PR) – NASA’s Space Technology and Mission Directorate (STMD) announced today the selection of Astrobotic for a “Tipping Point” award to develop a novel terrain relative navigation (TRN) sensor for precise lunar landings.

This sensor will enable spacecraft to land with unprecedented precision at the most challenging and promising scientific and economically compelling destinations on the lunar surface, such as lunar skylights and the ice-rich poles of the Moon.

Astrobotic will lead a public-private partnership team that includes Moog Space and Defense, Moog Broad Reach, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), and NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC) to develop a commercial TRN and visual velocimetry sensor for lunar and planetary landers. The sensor will provide real-time vision-based navigation measurements, enabling a spacecraft to autonomously land within 100 meters of any destination on a mapped planetary surface. This level of precision is orders of magnitude better than conventional landing systems.

“Most terrestrial robotic systems rely on GPS for precise navigation. Since GPS is not available at the Moon and other planets, we are developing a sensor that uses on-board cameras and computer vision algorithms to detect features on the lunar surface and match these features to onboard maps. Robust, high-speed image processing allows us to accurately determine the position of a spacecraft as it descends towards the surface,” said Kerry Snyder, the project technical lead at Astrobotic.

Credit; Astrobotic

In addition to the sensor hardware and software development, the team will develop two critical tools needed to make TRN a multi-mission commercial product: a fast, high-fidelity lunar landing camera simulator to test the TRN sensor hardware and software, and an accurate and precise lunar map generator. This is especially important at areas of the lunar poles where sweeping shadows cause the visual landscape to vary dramatically over the course of a lunar day. These tools will allow Astrobotic to provide precision landing for any landing site, at any time during the lunar day.