Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic Wins NASA Contract For Space Navigation Technology Research

Jennifer Bloodworth
October 11, 2018 - 12:05 pm
Astrobotic's Peregrine Lunar Lander

Andrew Limberg/KDKA Radio


Related: 'Destination Moon' Shows How Vital Pittsburgh Was To Apollo Mission

PITTSBURGH (NewsRadio 1020 KDKA) — A local robotics technology company has won a NASA research contract.

Astrobotic will use it to research and develop space navigation technology that will allow spacecraft to land safely and precisely on unmapped planetary bodies.

The company, founded in 2008 by Carnegie Mellon professor Red Whittaker, announced the 15-month Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Phase II-X contract managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory Thursday.

The development will focus mostly on missions to icy ocean worlds in the outer solar system.

The team will focus on landing a craft on Enceladus. The small, icy moon of Saturn is a target in life-finding missions because it appears to have all the ingredients required for life.

Enceladus also presents challenges for a landed mission the team is looking to tackle.  

Many landing missions require at least two spacecraft are required, with one conducting a preliminary orbit to collect images. Mission planners then select the best landing spot.

This means more time and more money. Astrobic’s team wants to find out if they can create a craft that can build a map of the surface as it’s landing on it.

Astrobotic will use their Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) software AstroNav in the development.

They say if a solution is found, it could also be used in difficult landing situations such as unmapped areas in dark terrain or dense atmospheres.

Astrobotic already has a module meant to deliver payloads to the Moon for companies, governments, universities, non-profits, and individuals for $1.2 million per kilogram.

The Peregrine Lander can land within 100 meters of the target landing area on the lunar surface. It is expected to launch in 2020.

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