Headlines > News > NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center Mighty Eagle Improves Autonomous Landing Software with Successful Flight

NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center Mighty Eagle Improves Autonomous Landing Software with Successful Flight

Published by Klaus Schmidt on Sun Sep 22, 2013 2:10 pm via: NASA
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The Mighty Eagle, a NASA robotic prototype lander managed out of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. successfully completed a test flight today as part of a series to help validate software from Moon Express, Inc. The flight also evaluated a new hazard avoidance system designed and developed at the Marshall Center.

Under the terms of a Reimbursable Space Act Agreement signed with Moon Express, the Marshall Center is providing its Mighty Eagle lander test vehicle and engineering team in support of a series of test flights to help validate the company’s Guidance, Navigation and Control (GNC) flight software. Guidance algorithms developed by Moon Express will be integrated into the existing software on-board the Mighty Eagle and used to perform the flight test series. This type of software is designed to tell the vehicle where to go and how to get there. In return, Moon Express is reimbursing NASA Marshall for the cost of providing the test vehicle and technical support.

Mighty Eagle descends to the landing field. Image Credit: NASA/MSFC/Fred Deaton

Mighty Eagle descends to the landing field. Image Credit: NASA/MSFC/Fred Deaton

“We are really excited about this flight series,” said Jason Adam, flight manager for the Mighty Eagle. “By utilizing both existing and new resources and expertise, we are not only gathering data about the innovative hazard avoidance system we designed, but at the same time we are helping Moon Express reach their goals and further their program. This is a great example of the types of partnership NASA is looking to strengthen in order to enable commercial companies to explore new places in our solar system.”

NASA will use the Mighty Eagle and its larger counterpart, the Project Morpheus prototype lander, to mature the technology needed to develop a new generation of small, smart and versatile robotic landers capable of achieving scientific and exploration goals on the surface of planetary bodies.

“Our partnership with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center is key to our goal of landing the world’s first commercial spacecraft on the moon,” said Moon Express co-founder and CEO Bob Richards. “We have benefitted from NASA’s encouragement and support in every step of our growth and development and we look forward to the results of our flight software tests on the Mighty Eagle.”

A close-up of the Mighty Eagle as it executes a beautiful flight. Image Credit: NASA/MSFC/Todd Freestone

A close-up of the Mighty Eagle as it executes a beautiful flight. Image Credit: NASA/MSFC/Todd Freestone

The test series is also evaluating a new hazard avoidance system designed and developed by engineers at the Marshall Center. This avoidance hazard system will search for obstacles or hazards like rocks or boulders so that it can steer the vehicle away from those places. The flight series began August 30 and will run through October.

The Mighty Eagle prototype lander was developed by the Marshall Center and Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., for NASA’s Planetary Sciences Division, Headquarters Science Mission Directorate. Key partners in this project include the Von Braun Center for Science and Innovation, which includes the Science Applications International Corporation, Dynetics Corp. and Teledyne Brown Engineering Inc., all of Huntsville.

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