CAMBRIDGE, MA (PRWEB) April 04, 2013
NASA can begin testing landing instruments for future missions to the Moon or Mars under realistic conditions without leaving Earth, thanks to a capability demonstrated with Draper Laboratory during a series of flight tests that concluded on March 25.
The testing at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California represented the first terrestrial demonstration of an autonomously guided rocket flying a planetary landing trajectory. The testing utilized Draper’s GENIE (Guidance Embedded Navigator Integration Environment) system actively controlling a Masten Xombie terrestrial test rocket. GENIE is an Autonomous Guidance, Navigation, and Control (AGNC) avionics system that is the only system available today capable of precision planetary landings with real-time, autonomous trajectory planning and hazard avoidance maneuvers.
This testing clears the way for researchers to use Draper’s GENIE System and Masten Space Systems’ terrestrial rockets like Xombie to test and validate a breadth of future planetary landing instruments, sensors, and algorithms.
NASA has generally relied on computer simulations to test new instruments, as available aircraft cannot fly trajectories that replicate planetary landings. Using GENIE and terrestrial rockets to mimic a spacecraft’s final approach to the Moon and Mars here on Earth, NASA can flight demonstrate whether new technology is ready for operational use without a costly space launch.
During the March 25 testing in the Mojave, Draper used GENIE to guide the Xombie rocket to an altitude of approximately 500 meters –higher than the Empire State Building in New York City – before landing safely 300 meters down range to replicate the speed and angle of a lunar or Mars approach and landing trajectory. Draper also used GENIE to guide the rocket to approximately 240 meters before landing safely 50 meters downrange on March 22 as an initial validation of this planetary landing flight profile.
Previous flight testing took place in the Mojave in December 2011 and January 2012.
A video of the demonstration can be found on YouTube at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xMQeNIqRyZw.
The GENIE precision landing AGNC system was developed jointly between Draper and the NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC) under the Autonomous Landing Hazard Avoidance Technology (ALHAT) effort, and is being flown under contract with NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program managed by Dryden Flight Research Center for the Space Technology Mission Directorate. The GENIE system builds upon Draper’s technical heritage from the Apollo Program lunar landing system and the Space Shuttle GNC system.
Xombie is one of a series of rockets being built by Masten to support terrestrial test flights. Masten won the Northrop Grumman Lander Challenge in 2009.
Draper Laboratory is a not-for-profit, engineering research and development organization dedicated to solving critical national problems in national security, space systems, biomedical systems, and energy. Core capabilities include guidance, navigation and control; miniature low power systems; highly reliable complex systems; information and decision systems; autonomous systems; biomedical and chemical systems; and secure networks and communications.