Initiatives and Programs
Artemis Lunar Lander Simulation
April 7, 2022: Side-lit by the Sun, its heavily cratered surface mired in shadow, the south pole of the Moon represents a highly challenging lunar landing target. Italian ESA astronaut Roberto Vittori took to an advanced flight simulator to try out a mock polar touchdown as part of a project to design a ‘human-in-the-loop’ lunar landing system. 1)
The ESA-led ‘Human-In-the-Loop Flight Vehicle Engineering’ technology study investigated the added performance benefit offered by human oversight of lunar landings to improve robustness and reliability of the flight system.
As part of the project, Roberto Vittori – a veteran astronaut of three space flights – boarded a unique motion simulator based at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) Institute of System Dynamics and Control at Oberpfaffenhofen , designed for extreme tilt angles and manoeuvres. 2)
The DLR Robotic Motion Simulator is based on an industrial robot arm with a flight deck capsule attached to it, fitted in turn with a virtual flight deck window.
From the capsule, Roberto was able to experience how a spacecraft behaves during critical flight phases then take action to control it. In one test scenario, the auto pilot was set to land in a landing zone littered with boulders. Vittori was able to intervene within a given time window and select a safer alternative landing site via touch screens.
In another scenario, the autopilot experienced a technical fault. Here, the Italian astronaut was able to switch to fully manual control and pilot the module manually as it descended onto the lunar surface.
“Our primary goal has been to evaluate human-machine interfaces and assistance functions for spacecraft,” explains ESA project manager Luca Ferracina.
“We’re establishing a preliminary design and the preliminary requirements for human lunar landing, with astronauts in the loop to improve robustness and reliability of the flight system. Our experience here shows clearly that the DLR Robotic Motion Simulator is very suitable for conducting this type of test.”
The Technical Directorate of the European Space Agency (ESA) has initiated the project 'Human-In-the-Loop Flight Vehicle Engineering for Exploration Missions' as part of preparations for the planned Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway (LOP-G) space station. Among other things, the gateway is to serve as an intermediate station for crewed missions to the Moon.
The project is funded by ESA and is a collaboration between research and industry. Project partner Thales Alenia Space from Italy provided the user interfaces for manoeuvre control, in particular the software for the touch screens. The navigation and flight control of the simulated lunar module was developed by the Spanish company Grupo Tecnológico e Industrial GMV S.A. and adapted for the DLR simulator. The Robotic Motion Simulator was developed at the DLR Institute of System Dynamics and Control.
Figure 6: ESA astronaut Roberto Vittori has tested various lunar landing manoeuvres for the first time in the flight deck of the ‘DLR Robotic Motion Simulator’. The motion simulator was developed at the DLR Institute of System Dynamics and Control and allows for extreme tilt angles and manoeuvres. The experiment is part of the ESA project ‘Human-in-the-Loop Flight Vehicle Engineering for Exploration Missions’. Within this project, technology studies are being carried out for crewed landings at the Moon’s South Pole. - The main goals are to evaluate human-machine interfaces and assistance functions for spacecraft. DLR researchers are also studying how the conditions and effects of motion that occur in lower gravity can best be simulated on Earth (video credit: DLR)
Forward to the Lunar Gateway
ESA’s ‘Human-In-the-Loop Flight Vehicle Engineering for Exploration Missions’ project is as part of its preparations for the international Lunar Gateway space station. Among other things, the Gateway is to serve as an intermediate station for crewed missions to the Moon.
Once the Gateway is established as a basecamp for surface exploration, the Moon’s South Pole is high on the list of sites to visit, and eventually settle. Avoiding the crippling temperature found elsewhere on the Moon, this location offers near-continuous sunlight for solar power along with access to lunar water ice deposits in adjacent permanently-shadowed craters.
1) ”ESA astronaut performs simulated polar Moon landing,” ESA Enabling & Support, 07 April 2022, URL: https://www.esa.int/Enabling_Support/Space_Engineering_Technology/ESA_astronaut_performs_simulated_polar_Moon_landing
2) ”'Moon landing' performed with DLR Robotic Motion Simulator,” DLR News, 7 April 2022, URL: https://www.dlr.de/content/en/articles/news/2022/02/20220407_moon-landing-performed-with-dlr-robotic-motion-simulator.html
The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: ”Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors” (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (firstname.lastname@example.org).