NASA Tests Prototype Lunar Lander

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A team at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., has successfully completed a series of drop tests of a prototype robotic lander featuring technologies that could be used to place scientific payloads on the Moon and other heavenly bodies that lack an atmosphere.

In the most recent test, the vehicle was dropped from a height of about 3 meters and received a command to activate its onboard thrusters that brought it in for a controlled landing based on a preprogrammed flight profile. The test article, standing 1-meter tall and weighing about 121 kilograms, used compressed air as a propellant, NASA said in a Nov. 16 press release.

Marshall is developing a version of the lander that uses a more energetic “warm gas” propellant and hopes to begin testing this summer. This vehicle would be dropped from a higher altitude and could stay aloft for as long as a minute, demonstrating flight avionics, sensors and software, NASA said.

The just-completed test series occurred over a 10-month period, NASA said.

“Demonstrating autonomous flight and descent in this short amount of time is a major accomplishment,” Julie Bassler, robotic lunar lander development project manager at Marshall, said in a prepared statement. “The proven capability of this test platform reduces our technical risks and brings us one step closer to building a flight robotic lander capable of carrying both scientific and exploration payloads to the lunar surface.”