Artemis Lunar Lander SimulationReferences
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)
Figure 1: 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. The ESA-led ‘Human-In-the-Loop Flight Vehicle Engineering’ technology study used the Simulator to simulate polar lunar landings, 'flown' by ESA astronaut Roberto Vittori (image credit: DLR)
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)
Figure 2: Mosaic of the lunar south pole from images acquired by ESA’s SMART-1. The poles are spared the temperature extremes of the two-week lunar days and nights experienced at lower latitudes. This mosaic is composed of images of the south pole, taken between May 2005 and February 2006, during different phases of the mission and from a distance of about 400 km, allowing medium-field snapshots (about 40 km across) and high-resolution views (40 m/pixel) of the region. From 109 of 113 SMART-1 images of the Shackleton area taken during the season, an illuminated peak located 7 km from the Shackleton rim was identified. This “Peak of (almost) Eternal Light” could be used to supply electricity via solar panels to a future base (image credit: ESA)
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.
Figure 3: Italian ESA astronaut Roberto Vittori took to an advanced flight simulator at DLR to try out a mock polar touchdown as part of a project to design a ‘human-in-the-loop’ lunar landing system (image credit: DLR)
“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.”
Figure 4: Lander display. 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 (image credit: DLR)
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 5: Debriefing on simulated lunar landing attempt. Italian ESA astronaut Roberto Vittori took to an advanced flight simulator at DLR to try out a mock polar touchdown as part of a project to design a 'human-in-the-loop' lunar landing system (image credit: DLR)
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.
Figure 7: An Orion spacecraft docked with the lunar outpost called the Gateway. The Gateway is the next structure to be launched by the partners of the International Space Station. - During the 2020s, it will be assembled and operated in the vicinity of the Moon, where it will move between different orbits and enable the most distant human space missions ever attempted. - Placed farther from Earth than the current Space Station the Gateway will offer a staging post for missions to the Moon and Mars. Its flight path is a highly-elliptical orbit around the Moon – bringing it both relatively close to the Moon’s surface but also far away making it easier to pick up astronauts and supplies from Earth – around a five-day trip. - The Gateway will weigh around 40 tonnes and will consist of a service module, a communications module, a connecting module, an airlock for spacewalks, a place for the astronauts to live and an operations station to command the gateway’s robotic arm or rovers on the Moon. Astronauts will be able to occupy it for up to 90 days at a time (image credit: ESA)
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).
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