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Video: Small, Smart, Robotic Lander Flown for Moon, Asteroid Missions

The “Mighty Eagle” soars above the tree line. The vehicle was "open loop" -- navigating autonomously without the command of the onboard camera and flying on a preprogrammed flight profile. Credit: NASA/MSFC/Fred Deaton

“The Eagle has landed.”

That declaration by Neil Armstrong was heard from Tranquility Base in 1969. But the phrase was used again on August 28th as engineers watched the touchdown of the “Mighty Eagle” – a NASA robotic prototype lander. The craft sailed to an altitude of 100 feet during a successful free flight at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

The small lander flew a 35-second run, boosting itself to a 100-foot mark. This test is part of a new series of free flights showcasing the robotic prototype lander’s autonomous rendezvous and capture capabilities.

Testing will continue through September.

NASA will use the Mighty Eagle to mature the technology needed to develop a new generation of small, smart, versatile robotic landers capable of achieving scientific and exploration goals on the surface of the Moon, asteroids or other airless bodies.

This week’s Mighty Eagle flight – once at altitude — identified a new, larger target on the ground about 100 feet away, took pictures, processed the images and safely landed. The vehicle navigated itself autonomously.

“We met our goal for this flight, which was to test the new software at triple the height of our last flight,” said Dr. Greg Chavers, Mighty Eagle test lead at the Marshall Center. “The higher we go, the more realistic the scenario is compared to an actual descent,” he said in a press statement.

The Mighty Eagle was developed by the Marshall Center and Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., for NASA’s Planetary Sciences Division, Headquarters 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.

Watch the Mighty Eagle soar on Aug. 28 at the Marshall Center. Video at:

By Leonard David


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