Planetary Lander Technology


The Space Technology Centre works on technology for planetary landers, spacecraft that land on the surface of other planets. The principal area of research interest is the entry, descent and landing phase which is the most hazardous for any lander. In particular research on autonomous navigation and piloting techniques are studied along with tools for supporting this research.

The Space Technology Centre researched and developed the PANGU planet and asteroid natural-scene generation utility, which is able to generate highly realistic artificial planet surfaces inside a computer that are representative of the Moon, Mars, Mercury or asteroids. Various types of sensors including cameras can then be simulated in the tool and the descent of a spacecraft simulated using images from one or more simulated cameras to help steer the spacecraft to a safe landing point. Various navigation and piloting algorithms that do the steering of the spacecraft, can then be tested on many different surfaces and compared to identify the best techniques to use for real spacecraft.

The Space Technology Centre has also researched and developed a chip for performing image processing needed for planetary lander navigation which has been integrated in a navigation camera by EADS Astrium and Officine Galileo, funded by ESA.

Recently the work on the PANGU tool has been expanded to include the development of spacecraft simulation to support research on in-orbit rendezvous and docking operation. Planetary rover simulation is also being studied.

PANGU: Planet and Asteroid Natural Scene Generation Utility

PANGU simulated lunar like surface

PANGU simulated lunar like surface

The PANGU (Planet and Asteroid Natural scene Generation Utility) project built on the earlier proof of concept work in the LunarSim study. It concentrated on improving the realism of the simulated surfaces and of the images generated from them. In particular crater ageing and surface reflectance models were implemented. Craters of various ages in corresponding states of degradation were modelled. A method was also devised for simulating Hapke bi-directional surface reflectance using the facilities available in OpenGL, a widely used 3D modelling and image-rendering library.

Navigation Camera

Details coming soon.