Four NASA payloads flying aboard Intuitive Machines’ IM-1 Nova-C lander in 2021 have completed preliminary Command and Data Handling (C&DH) Handshakes between Intuitive Machines (IM), NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC), and Langley Research Center (LaRC).

Using IM’s Nova-C Avionics Integration and Verification Laboratory (FlatSat), IM engineers successfully demonstrated bi-directional communications between flight and engineering units of the IM-1 Mission NASA payloads and IM’s flight computer, its Nova Core software, and ground systems. The successful testing was a first-step in verifying that NASA’s payloads will function properly in lunar transit and after Nova-C sticks the landing on the Moon.

Working virtually with a team at GSFC, IM engineers completed Command and Data Handshakes with GSFC’s Radio wave Observations at the Lunar Surface of the photo-Electron Sheath (ROLSES) payload. NASA will use ROLSES’s low-frequency radio receiver system to determine photoelectron sheath density and scale height. The measurements will aide future exploration missions by demonstrating if there will be an effect on the antenna response or larger lunar radio observatories with antennas on the lunar surface and confirm how well a lunar surface-based radio observatory could observe and image solar radio bursts. IM engineers successfully sent ROLSES commands from the Nova Core ground software, received command responses from ROLSES, stored science data, and verified the payload was in time sync with Nova-C’s flight computer.

IM engineers also virtually completed their C&DH handshake with LaRC’s Stereo Cameras for Lunar Plume-Surface Studies (SCALPSS) payload. NASA will use SCALPSS to capture video and still image data of the lander’s plume as the plume starts to impact the lunar surface until after engine shut off, which the space agency says is critical for future vehicle designs.

The engineering unit payload completed command and response messaging to and from Nova Core ground software, stored image data to Nova-C’s on-board storage, received SCALPSS messages for power down, parsed payload information messages including internal camera temperature, and completed all three phases of SCALPSS payload operations including transit, descent, and surface operations.

MSFC’s Lunar Node 1 (LN-1) is a CubeSat-sized experiment that will demonstrate autonomous navigation to support future surface and orbital operations. The LN-1 ground software successfully forwarded commands to Nova Core ground software, which sent the command to Nova-C’s flight computer destined for LN-1. IM engineers then streamed LN-1’s command responses and telemetry from the payload to LN-1’s ground software via the Nova-C flight computer and Nova Core ground station software. The LN-1 team also performed a functional checkout and verified Nova-C’s flight computer and software were properly in sync with LN-1.

NASA LaRC’s Navigation Doppler Lidar for Precise Velocity and Range Sensing (NDL) is a LIDAR-based (Light Detection and Ranging) sensor composed of a three-beam optical head and a box with electronics and photonics that will provide extremely precise velocity and range sensing during descent and landing of the Nova-C that will tightly control navigation precise for a soft controlled touchdown on the Moon.

The flight unit streamed real time data to Nova Core ground software, stored navigation data on Nova-C’s file system, and NDL confirmed that the time sync command from the Nova-C NDL application to the NDL payload was received correctly and contains valid timestamp.

The successful initial payload testing allows the communication protocols to mature as the assembly of the four experiment payloads is finalized and builds confidence leading into final verification testing that will be performed just before and immediately after final integration.

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