On 21 February 2014, Google Lunar X Prize contender Astrobotic successfully tested its autonomous landing technology, the Astrobotic Autolanding System (AAS), throughout an open-loop flight on board the Masten Aerospace Xombie. Watch as the moon landing tech is tested for the first time aboard the VTOL suborbital rocket…
The AAS provides precise real-time location updates for spacecraft through visual navigation and automatically avoids hazards during landing on unknown terrain. The landing sensor uses two cameras, an inertial measurement unit (IMU) and a scanning laser.
“The pair of cameras work together like human eyes to measure distance and track motion. The scanning laser gives precise distance measurements and enables us to pick out hazards as small as a curb. The AAS landing sensor combines these sensors with an IMU – the device that enables airplane autopilots to determine direction to the ground – to build its models,” explained Kevin Peterson, Astrobotic’s Chief Technology Officer.
The test validated performance of pose estimation and hazard detection in a flight-relevant environment – one that includes factors such as vibration, rotation rate, plume, etc. Ground truth trajectory and hazard data confirmed the ability of the sensor to detect hazards as small as a soccer ball. The test also confirmed that the shape of the trajectory is flyable and supports hazard detection.
Up until this flight, the AAS technology had only been exercised on ground vehicles, ziplines, helicopters and airplanes to validate visual navigation and hazard detection at a variety of altitudes and velocities. The latest test flight was an improvement on those tests, as the AAS was tested on a relevant propulsive vehicle in a trajectory that mimics the one that will be flown to land on the Moon.
The X Prize Foundation is offering the largest incentive prize in history, the $30 million (about R300 million) Google Lunar X Prize. The Astrobotic and Moon Express teams are neck and neck in the race to meet the 2015 deadline for landing a craft on the Moon with 90 per cent private funding.