ESA astronaut performs simulated polar landing on the Moon

(ORDO NEWS) — The South Pole of the Moon, illuminated from the side by the Sun and covered with craters, is a very difficult target for a lunar landing.

Italian ESA astronaut Roberto Vittori used a state-of-the-art flight simulator to test a simulated polar landing as part of a project to develop a “human-in-the-loop” lunar landing system.

An ESA-led “human-in-the-loop” aircraft design technology study is exploring the additional benefits of human control of a lunar landing to improve system strength and reliability.

As part of the project, Roberto Vittori, a veteran astronaut of three space flights, took part in the operation of a unique motion simulator located at the Institute for System Dynamics and Control of the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) in Oberpfaffenhofen near Cologne and designed for extreme tilt angles and maneuvers.

“It was a great launch,” said Roberto, emphasizing the intuitive sense of movement the simulation system gave him.

“The simulator is an incredible machine, probably one of the best I’ve come across. Today’s experiment showed me that Europe can play a key role in future research.”

The DLR robot motion simulator is based on an industrial robot arm with a capsule attached to it, which in turn is equipped with a virtual flight deck window.

From the capsule, Roberto could observe the behavior of the spacecraft during critical phases of the flight and then take action to control it.

In one of the test scenarios, the autopilot was set to land in a boulder-strewn landing zone. Vittori was able to intervene in a predetermined time frame and select a safer alternative landing site using touch screens.

In another scenario, the autopilot encountered a technical problem. Here, the Italian astronaut was able to switch to full manual control and manually pilot the module during its descent to the lunar surface.

“Our main goal is to evaluate human-machine interfaces and assistance functions for spacecraft,” explains ESA project leader Luca Ferracina.

“We are creating a preliminary design and preliminary requirements for an astronaut-assisted human lunar landing to improve the robustness and reliability of the flight system. Our experience here clearly shows that the DLR robotic motion simulator is very suitable for this kind of testing.”

Forward to the Lunar Gateway

The ESA project to design manned spacecraft for exploration missions is part of the preparations for the creation of the international space station Lunar Gateway. Among other things, the Gateway will serve as a way station for crewed missions to the Moon.

Once the Gateway becomes a base camp for surface exploration, the South Pole of the Moon will be included in the list of places to visit and eventually inhabit.

Avoiding the damaging temperatures seen elsewhere on the Moon, the site offers near-continuous sunshine for solar power, as well as access to lunar water ice deposits in nearby permanently shaded craters.

The project is funded by ESA and is a collaboration between academia and industry. Project partner Thales Alenia Space, an Italian company, provided user interfaces to control the maneuvers, including touch screen software.

The navigation and flight control system of the simulated lunar module was developed by the Spanish company GMV and adapted for the DLR simulator.


Contact us: [email protected]

Our Standards, Terms of Use: Standard Terms And Conditions.