NASA COBALT team and the Masten Xodiac team with Xodiac in the background (Image courtesy of NASA)
There are so many places in our solar system in which man wants and needs to explore. Most of these are not realistically reachable by self-guided, robotic lander spacecraft because of technology gaps in current landing systems. To remedy this, NASA created The CoOperative Blending of Autonomous Landing Technologies (COBALT) project, which is conducted by NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) and the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate.
To do this, the team will test two new landing sensor technologies that may give the highest-precision navigation solution ever tested for NASA space landing applications.
These technologies are a Navigation Doppler Lidar (NDL), that is capable of giving ultra-precise velocity and line-of-sight range measurements, and the Lander Vision System (LVS), that will enable terrain relative navigation. These will be integrated and flight tested aboard a rocket-powered vertical takeoff, vertical landing (VTVL) platform. The platform, is called Xodiac and was developed by Masten Space Systems in Mojave, California.
The Navigation Doppler LIDAR System (NDL) (Image courtesy of NASA)
COBALT hardware. (Image courtesy of NASA)
Xodiac vehicle (Image courtesy of Masten Space Systems).
An internal view of COBALT and the Xodiac vehicle (Image courtesy of NASA)
In the first flight campaign, NASA will endeavor to complete the integration, flight testing and performance analysis of the COBALT payload. This is just a passive test, in which COBALT will be only collecting data, while the Xodiac vehicle will rely on its GPS for active navigation.
In a follow-up flight campaign this summer, COBALT will become the active navigation system for Xodiac, and the vehicle will use GPS solely as a safety monitor and backup system.
Stay tuned for my upcoming in-depth technical article on EDN regarding this technology.