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Artist rendering of the Ball smallsat, set to carry the Green Propellant Infusion Mission to space for flight-testing in 2015.
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Read about the progress of the Technology Demonstration Missions via bi-monthly newsletters.

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For more information, please contact:

Randy Lillard
Technology Demonstration Missions Program Executive
NASA Headquarters, Washington DC

John M. McDougal
Technology Demonstration Missions Program Manager
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.

Shannon Ridinger
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.

Autonomous Landing and Hazard Avoidance Technology (ALHAT)

    Autonomous Landing Hazard Avoidance Technology
    "It is the business of the future to be dangerous; and it is among the merits of science that it equips the future for its duties."
    -- Alfred North Whitehead, 20th century British mathematician

    Future expeditions to destinations across the solar system will require robotic and human explorers to land near specific resources -- many of them situated in potentially hazardous terrain. To that end, NASA researchers and their partners are working to equip a new generation of hardy planetary landers with the ability to automatically recognize their desired landing site, assess any and all potential landing hazards and adjust accordingly as they descend to the surface. Once proven, this technology could dramatically improve the safety and versatility of future robotic, cargo and crewed planetary descent vehicles -- opening up a host of new destinations and making it easier for human explorers to reach them.

    The Autonomous Landing and Hazard Avoidance Technology (ALHAT) project is developing advanced technologies vital to achieving this real-time capability. These technologies include surface-tracking sensors which very precisely measure spacecraft altitude and velocity relative to the planetary surface and actively measure the topography or roughness of the landing area. High-speed, high-volume processors combine ALHAT algorithms with this sensor data to navigate to what's known as the "pre-mission landing aim point," where the technology will determine safe landing areas close to this point. The spacecraft is then navigated to a safe area close to the landing aim point for touchdown. This entire process is done autonomously with automated guidance, navigation and control software onboard the spacecraft.

    Led by NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, the ALHAT team developed these technologies, and in fall 2011 will integrate and ground-test them at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. Following successful integration and ground testing, the systems will be shipped to the Johnson Center to be integrated with NASA's Morpheus Vertical Test Bed robotic lander prototype to conduct ground and hop flight tests. Integration and ground testing will include some short hop flights.

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