Recently Astrobotic was awarded two contracts by NASA that would help in making its first lunar landing technology. The contracts made are meant to help in building the company’s Peregrine lander, making it much more possible and accessible in the future.
A contract of $10 million has been awarded by NASA for the development of a terrain relative navigation (TRN) sensor for precise lunar landings and another contract of $1.9 million in partnership with Frontier Aerospace of Simi Valley, California.
The TRN has been designed in a way to allow the spacecraft to land with acute accuracy on the most challenging Moon landing sites. The joint development is to be lead in collaboration with Moog Space and Defence, Moog Broadreach, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and NASA’s Johnson Space Center.
To get the accurate measurement and real-time vision-based navigation, the TRN system is designed in a way so that it can use cameras and onboard maps enabling a spacecraft to autonomously land within 328 feet.
The culminating demonstration is a technology demonstration flight to the Moon. - As told by Fraser Kitchell, director of Astrobotic’s Future Missions and Technology department
The first test landing of Peregrine lander by TRN technology is scheduled to launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket sometime in 2020. And on its first launch itself, it will be collecting data to send it back to Earth to validate whether the sensor worked as expected or not.
But at least for the first mission, the system will not be fully integrated with the spacecraft or feeding measurements into the flight computer.
Most robotic landing system relies on GPS but as there is no GPS on the Moon the TRN system will have to completely rely on the onboard cameras and computer vision algorithms to detect features on the Moon.
According to Astrobotic CEO John Thornton, this is a big breakthrough for access to the Moon, making it more accessible and easy “because now we can land next to areas of scientific interest, or areas of challenging terrain, and know that we can hit the spot exactly where we call it.”
Kitchell confirmed that the recent NASA contract will allow Astrobotic to develop a tool that will make lunar mapping imagery available not only to Astrobotic but to others planning a trip to the Moon. The advantage of accurate mapping is that it can be used for any further future missions to the Moon.
We definitely look forward to a very successful mission of the first launch.