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  • Satellite Evolution Group

Airbus landing technology to enable missions to the lunar surface to be launched early in 2024

Peregrine Lunar Lander - Copyright Astrobotic Technology

Technology required for interplanetary missions pushes engineering to its limits. Upcoming lunar missions will pave the way for humans to spend sustained periods on the Moon, investigating its surface and learning how to live and work there. Astrobotic’s Peregrine spacecraft is due to land on the lunar surface soon and Airbus’ technology will be instrumental in taking this next step on the Moon.

Peregrine, was developed by Astrobotic under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Service (CLPS) initiative, and is scheduled for launch in 2024. Airbus was responsible for the layout, sizing, design, manufacture and qualification of the landing system. The four legs of the spacecraft will absorb the shock and stabilise Peregrine to enable the safe touchdown of this commercial mission onto the lunar surface.

Recently, the landing system for Astrobotic's next spacecraft, Griffin, has also been tested. Airbus engineers have contributed to the successful single-leg drop test campaign demonstrating the robust design of the landing system and load dampers. Landing success prediction, kinematics, mechanical design and load analysis, as well as the design and manufacture of touchdown sensors were carried out by Airbus. The extensive data collected during the tests was used to correlate the models for the multi-body simulation. “These models will enable us to simulate a very large number of landing cases, even extending beyond what can safely be demonstrated in a laboratory setup,” said Torsten Vogel, leading the Future and Robotic Missions team at Airbus in Bremen, Germany. “With this data we can analytically support the qualification of the mechanism through testing. This data will also be statistically evaluated to provide landing success probabilities for different landing site characteristics, taking into account rocks, small craters and slopes.”

On a test rig built and operated by Astrobotic, a landing leg was subjected to quasi-static friction tests and more than 10 drop tests covering a wide range of landing conditions on soft and hard ground. These activities were supported by Airbus engineers, who worked on-site as a fully integrated part of the Astrobotic team for two weeks to collect all the data needed to qualify the landing system. Excellent collaboration between NASA, Astrobotic and Airbus made for great teamwork.

With more than 10 years’ experience in landing system design and proprietary modelling and simulation tools, Airbus’ expertise is internationally recognised. The experience, workflow and toolchain of the landing systems team are also being used for Argonaut lunar lander activities which form part of Europe’s independent access to the lunar. Airbus is also supporting ESA’s Rosalind Franklin team in the dimensioning of a landing system to be designed and manufactured for the ExoMars mission, for which Airbus built the Mars rover.

The creation of a continuous human presence on the Moon will be crucial to building up operational experience in reliably supporting life away from Earth. The technology boost from this back on Earth could be phenomenal - as happened from the Apollo missions which ultimately led to the birth of Silicon Valley and the computers and smartphones we use today.

The Moon, our nearest neighbour, is the perfect escape route to our solar system, with enormous potential to be a source of scientific breakthroughs and economic growth. Over the next decade, the Artemis programme will lay the foundation for a sustained long-term presence on the lunar surface and use the Moon to validate deep space systems and operations before embarking on the much further voyage to Mars.

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