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Autonomous Landing Hazard Avoidance Technology [2012-12-21]

news imageAutonomous is nearly a household word. We hear about autonomous cars, military drones and robots. But what about spacecraft?

NASA is working on that -- technology to autonomously land a spacecraft on Moon, Mars or even an asteroid. It's called the Autonomous Landing Hazard Avoidance Technology, or ALHAT.

ALHAT gives a landing craft the ability to detect and avoid obstacles such as craters, rocks and slopes and land safely and precisely on a surface. The project is led by Johnson Space Center (JSC) and supported by Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and Langley Research Center.

To ensure its design capabilities, the ALHAT instrumentation was put on a NASA Huey helicopter followed by a completion of 12 flight tests - starting at Langley and finishing at Kennedy Space Center... more>

shooting for the moon mosaic test scan
dynamic ground test
test at JSC Morpheus tether test
tether test 17

ALHAT on Morpheus
hazard detection field test flash lidar terrain sensing and recognition
Future lunar missions will require the capability to land in close proximity of specific resources that are located in potentially hazardous terrain. To enable this capability, landers must be able to automatically identify the desired landing-site location while also detecting landing hazards during the final descent to the lunar surface. A critical technology called the Hazard Detection System is under development at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to make this capability possible. The Hazard Detection System consists of active sensors for measuring the topography of the landing site, along with terrain analysis algorithms to identify the landing site and the local hazards.

To prove that these technologies are ready for flight, they must be tested through both hardware-in-the-loop terrestrial field tests and high-fidelity Monte Carlo simulations of lunar landing. The terrestrial field tests validate the real-time performance and capabilities of the combined hardware, sensors and algorithms within the Hazard Detection System in a relevant dynamics environment, and the simulations improve confidence in the system for a high variety of lunar landing scenarios. Initial field testing of the prototype systems was conducted onboard a helicopter with flights over relevant terrain. Upcoming testing of the system will be conducted on the Morpheus vehicle, a rocket-propulsive terrestrial testbed under development at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) that has the capability to fly up to 1 kilometer altitudes and over 1 kilometer ranges. Test with Morpheus will be conducted initially at JSC, followed by flights over a simulated lunar terrain field under construction at Kennedy Space Center (KSC).

The multi-year development of the Hazard Detection System has been conducted within the Autonomous Landing and Hazard Avoidance Technology (ALHAT) program lead by Johnson Space Center (JSC) with support from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Langley Research Center (LaRC), the Charles Stark Draper Labs (CSDL) and the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL). JPL is the lead center for design and development of the Hazard Detection System, has led several of the field testing campaigns, and designs and implements the terrain analysis algorithms, including terrain and environment models, hazard detection algorithms, hazard relative navigation algorithms and terrain relative navigation algorithms.
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