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Off-the-Ground Mobility on the Moon to Prospect for Lunar Ices

Presentation #119.07 in the session Moon & Earth (Poster + Lightning Talk)

Published onOct 23, 2023
Off-the-Ground Mobility on the Moon to Prospect for Lunar Ices

In this talk, an approach for accessing and characterizing volatiles and other materials and features of interest on the Moon from free flying, thruster propelled platforms is described. Due to proximity to the ground and the capability to hover above points of interest, remote sensing data with high spatial resolution and exquisite signal to noise can be acquired from such vehicles. Flight paths can be designed and flown that consist of a series of ballistic arcs interspersed by occasional thruster firings, mitigating effects of thruster plume impingement onto the terrain below. Contact measurements are possible if the drone sets down at selected locations. Thruster propelled vehicles – hereafter referred to as lunar “drones” – can carry out powered or ballistic flight arcs, constituting an efficient way of achieving regional exploration and vehicle relocation with kilometer-scale distances that are covered in a matter of minutes, irrespective of surface conditions. SoftServe company in a so-called accelerator (an internally funded project), has performed the conceptual design of an on-board guidance system for a ~70 kg wet mass lunar drone for controlled powered flight, landings and take-off which uses vision-based navigation with a monocular camera system and an IMU, feeding a SLAM algorithm (Simultaneous Localization and Mapping) that performs autonomous navigation to reach pre-assigned targets. We are showing results of flight simulations that have been developed using NVIDIA’s IsaacSim simulation environment that were developed in context of defining the autonomous navigation system. A notional Design Reference Mission studied and simulated by SoftServe is the flight into, through and out of a lunar lava tube, using one of the discovered lunar pits as entry and exit point. A separately studied mission to explore a polar PSR would have the drone delivered to a landing site near a PSR and the vehicle crossing the threshold to the shaded terrain, flying over the interior of the PSR. While descending in powered flight or in free fall from an initial altitude of a few 10’s of meters, remote sensing data using radar, thermal IR imaging and laser reflectometry would be acquired ever closer to the ground. The vehicle may be either directed to an impact inside the PSR or may perform a soft landing for short duration contact measurements.

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