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Morpheus Uses Hazard Detection System to Land Safely in Dark [2014-05-29]

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During testing, Morpheus -- an unmanned spacecraft capable of carrying 1,100 pounds (499 kg) of cargo -- powered its way up to more than 800 feet (244 m) into the dark Florida sky at NASA's Kennedy Space Center using solely ALHAT's Hazard Detection System for guidance.

The Hazard Detection System, assisted by three light detection and ranging (lidar) sensors, located obstacles -- such as rocks and craters -- and safely landed on the lunar-like hazard field a quarter mile away from the NASA Center.

"The team has been striving for almost eight years to reach this point of testing the ALHAT system in a relevant space-flight-like environment on Morpheus," said Eric Roback, ALHAT flash lidar lead engineer at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

During testing, the Hazard Detection System pointed its sensor at the hazard field and made a mosaic of flash lidar three dimensional range images encompassing the hazard field.

"The flash lidar performed very well, and we could clearly identify rocks as small as one foot (0.3 m) in size from the largest range that Morpheus could give us, which was approximately a quarter mile," (402 m) Roback said. "With this sensor we could even find the safest landing site in a pitch black crater." more>

Equipped with New Sensors, Morpheus Preps to Tackle Landing on its Own [2014-04-23]

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A test flight later this week will challenge a set of sensors to map out a 65-yard square of boulder-sized hazards and pick out a safe place to land.

Mounted to an uncrewed prototype lander called Morpheus that flies autonomously several hundred feet above the ground, the sensor system will have 10 seconds to do its work: six seconds really, as it will take four seconds to map the area before choosing a landing site.

The sensor system is a 400-pound set of computers and three instruments called ALHAT, short for Autonomous Landing and Hazard Avoidance Technology.

If it works Thursday and in a pair of later flights, the sensor package and a host of technologies introduced by the lander may find themselves instrumental in the success of future missions to other worlds - perhaps propelling a descent stage on a spacecraft landing people on Mars.

That's a big dream for the two small projects called Morpheus and ALHAT. Morpheus is the lander - a 10-foot-diameter, 2,400-pound four-legged metal frame holding four spheres of propellant that feed into a single, 5,300-pound-thrust engine. They were developed in the Advanced Exploration Systems Division of the agency's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. The branch pioneers new approaches for rapidly developing prototype systems, demonstrating key capabilities and validating operational concepts for future human missions beyond Earth's orbit.

The good news for the team of about 45 engineers who have been working on the combined projects for years is that the sensor set did just what it was supposed to during an earlier free flight, so it should do just as well during Thursday's flight over a landing field at the Shuttle Landing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. more>

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

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Autonomous 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 (KSC). Helicopter tests allow researchers to test the functionality of ALHAT as an integrated system in a flight environment. more>

ALHAT Detects Landing Hazards on the Surface [2012-09-07]

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Future NASA space crafts will be able to safely land on the Moon, Mars and even an asteroid, in potentially hazardous terrain areas, all autonomously. And NASA's Autonomous Landing Hazard Avoidance Technology (ALHAT) team is in the process of making it happen.

Led by Johnson Space Center (JSC) and supported by Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Langley Research Center, ALHAT provides a planetary lander the ability to precisely land safely on a surface while detecting any dangerous obstacles such as rocks, holes and slopes. Recent tests were conducted at NASA Langley to tests ALHAT's hazard detection system.

"If you want to go where there's any kind of roughness or any kind of hazards - you want to land safely without destroying your vehicle or crashing your vehicle - you need this kind of system," said JSC ALHAT Project Manager, Chirold Epp.

The system was placed on a truck with the main goal of imaging a target approximately 2,500 - feet away. This allows the team to see how well they image and can navigate while driving. more>

Morpheus/ALHAT To Track Kennedy Space Center Before Targeting Otherworldly Options [2012-07-19]

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Americans are not the only ones joining in the very common summer activity of a road trip. The Morpheus lander, a rocket-powered vehicle being fostered under the Advanced Exploration Systems portfolio, is heading to Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida mid-July for technology gains that are far from common in the spaceflight realm: real-time hazard detection and avoidance capability by a spacecraft.

Morpheus will rendezvous in the sunshine state with the Autonomous Landing and Hazard Avoidance Technology (ALHAT) Project, a complex suite of instruments that will hitch a ride on Morpheus to put their sensors to the test.

"The ALHAT program was designed to do real-time hazard avoidance and precision landing and on any planetary surface," said Dr. Chirold Epp, ALHAT project manager. "We have been testing on helicopters and airplanes, but we can't really demonstrate everything we're trying to do without duplicating a landing trajectory, and Morpheus provides that for us."

Morpheus progressed exponentially during the hot-fire tests and tethered flights conducted in the field west of Johnson Space Center's Building 14. In fact, you may have seen this bubbly lander hovering in the horizon or firing its green propulsion system of liquid oxygen and liquid methane. more>

Four Out of Six Apollos [2008-12-23]

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Their names are now part of exploration history - Sea of Tranquility, Ocean of Storms, Frau Mauro, Hadley Rille, Descartes and Taurus-Littrow. They are the sites on the lunar surface visited by America's Apollo astronauts. Six unique locations. each with its own unique set of challenges to those who wanted to explore its secrets.

"To paraphrase an old bromide, those who forget the past are doomed to land like it," said Chirold Epp of NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. "Having looked at the Apollo landings I have come to two conclusions. One - those crews did a great job. Two - data from several of the landings support the idea that we must give future moon landers more information to increase the probability of mission success."

To prepare for their missions, Apollo crews were heavily trained to recognize specific large-scale lunar surface features at or near the designated landing site. These features would help the astronauts find their way to a safe area as close to the planned landing site as possible. But sometimes lighting conditions would conspire with local topography to deceive even the most highly-trained eye.

With two minutes left on the descent of the lunar module Falcon, Apollo 15 mission commander David Scott looked out his window and could not find the sequence of four craters as a visual guide to his planned landing spot northwest of the fourth and final crater, Index. Said Scott during a 1971 Technical Debrief: "When we pitched over, I couldn't convince myself that I saw Index Crater anywhere." more>

To Go Where No Spacecraft Has Gone Before [2008-12-23]

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Scattered loosely around the beltline of Earth's nearest neighbor are six silent sentinels, testaments to America's first moon program. Standing all of 10 feet high and 30 feet wide (from footpad to footpad), each of these lunar module descent stages is more than a historical artifact that powered two Apollo astronauts to a safe landing on the moon's surface. They are unearthly reminders of the challenges that future moon crews will encounter on their final approach to the unknown.

"The Apollo landing missions were an unqualified success," said Chirold Epp of NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. "Every single time a lunar module headed toward the surface, it landed successfully and its crew got out and did a great job. But that doesn't mean there were not close calls. On four of the six Apollo landings, conditions were such that it gave us pause."

Though the last Apollo mission alighted on the moon more than three decades ago, the story of their landings, and where each of those 24 lunar module footpads settled into the soil, is still something Epp considers worthy of note. He is the manager of NASA's Autonomous Landing and Hazard Avoidance Technology (ALHAT) project - an undertaking designed to provide America's next moon crews with invaluable data that could make the difference between a good day and a very bad day. more>

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