Robotic Lunar Lander Testing
Robotic Lunar Lander Testing at Marshall Space Flight Center

Robotic lunar lander testing at the Marshall Center. Image Credit: NASA
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NASA MSFC in partnership with the Von Braun Center for Science and Innovation (VCSI) has successfully demonstrated the first autonomous flight of a new robotic lander test article -- one that will aid in the development of a new generation of multi-use landers for future robotic space exploration. During recent testing, the lander's thrusters operated precisely as planned and the vehicle has performed a 9.8 second flight, demonstrating it can fly autonomously while safely controlling itself. To complete this flight maneuver, each onboard thruster had to perform its own specific function. One set is responsible for controlling the vehicle's attitude, and another set direct altitude and landing. An additional main thruster offsets the effect of the Earth's gravity, allowing the other thrusters to operate as they would while experiencing gravity in a lunar environment.

The lander test article was developed in partnership with MSFC and local innovative partners. The test article uses compressed air for safe operations and quick turn-around times allowing engineers to perform multiple tests in a day and make adjustments to the test operations as necessary. The lander is compact, about the size of a coffee table -- standing 3 feet tall and weighing 270 pounds. The test article is comparable in size to the actual flight design. Through the end of fiscal year 2010, a series of increasingly complex tests will be performed.

This unique MSFC test bed capability will enable significant technical progress toward the development of robotic lunar lander mission concepts, implemented jointly by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU/APL). Additionally, the MSFC test bed infra-structure will provide technology testing open to academia and private industry.