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Mighty Eagle Prototype Lander Soars with Private Sector Software

NASA's Mighty Eagle, a flying test bed for future robotic Moon landers. Credit: NASA/MSFC/Moon Express

Government/private sector collaboration is helping to foster the development of commercial, low-cost missions to the Moon.

NASA Marshall Space Flight Center is collaborating with Moon Express, Inc. to test the company’s flight software on NASA’s “Mighty Eagle” prototype robotic lander.

Thanks to a Reimbursable Space Act Agreement signed with Moon Express, NASA Marshall is providing its Mighty Eagle lander test vehicle and engineering team in support of a series of test flights to help validate the company’s Guidance, Navigation and Control flight (GNC) software.

On September 20, the Mighty Eagle flew a “textbook” flight that helped validate Moon Express GNC flight software.

Autonomous soft landing

Why is GNC software so important?

This type of software is designed to tell the vehicle where to go and how to get there and is critical for an autonomous soft landing on the Moon.

“By utilizing resources and expertise, we can gather data that will not only be used to better NASA’s robotic lander program, but can help advance the commercial sector as well,” said Jason Adam, flight manager for the Mighty Eagle at the Marshall Center.

“Our partnership with NASA Marshall Spaceflight Center is key to our goal of landing the world’s first commercial spacecraft on the Moon”, said Moon Express co-founder and CEO Bob Richards.

“We have benefitted from NASA’s encouragement and support in every step of our growth and development,” Richards said in a press statement, “and we look forward to the results of our flight software tests on the Mighty Eagle”.

Google Lunar XPRIZE

Moon Express is a leading contender in the $30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE and is based at the NASA Ames Research Park in Silicon Valley with a Propulsion Development Facility in Huntsville, Alabama.

The private company has been collaborating with NASA for lunar lander development since 2010 when it established a Reimbursable Space Act Agreement with NASA Ames Research Center.

That agreement is providing Moon Express access to test facilities and NASA’s innovative Common Spacecraft Bus designs currently being flight proven within the LADEE orbiter spacecraft that’s now on its way to the Moon.

The Mighty Eagle lander was developed by the Marshall Center and Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., for NASA Headquarters’ Planetary Sciences Division, Science Mission Directorate. Key partners in this project include the Von Braun Center for Science and Innovation, which includes the Science Applications International Corporation, Dynetics Corp., and Teledyne Brown Engineering Inc., all of Huntsville.

NOTE: Check out this impressive video of Mighty Eagle soaring on its September 20th flight, making use of the Moon Express flight software, at:

http://av.ndc.nasa.gov/content/download.php?video=Mighty_Eagle_B-roll_RevA

By Leonard David

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