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Blazing a Trail to the Moon

The Mighty Eagle has Landed (with Moon Express GNC)


Nov 14th, 2013
4:57 pm
Submitted by Bob Richards

Today the NASA Mighty Eagle prototype lunar lander took flight for the first time with Moon Express navigation and control (GNC) software in the driver’s seat.

In a relatively brief (in human terms) flight, our GNC software successfully controlled the vehicle in a tethered hover flight and landed with all nerves and pieces intact.

Of course today’s flight was actually a relatively conservative logical next step beyond our September 20th open loop free flight test, and was a very carefully planned event supported by high confidence at Moon Express and NASA due to many rigorous simulations, reviews and empirical data.  Still, spacecraft GNC involves highly complex software algorithms and the vehicle itself is in a high energy state where safety has no room for compromise. We congratulate our GNC team for a job well done, particularly our Principal GNC Engineer Jim Kaidy and Software Engineer Mike Stewart (pictured here with the Mighty Eagle today), and we continue to be impressed and appreciative of the support and professionalism of the Mighty Eagle team.

The second pic from today's flight test shows the "Mighty Eagle" going through its pre-flight "burp sequence" where it basically warms up the rocket engines. You can see the tethers attaching the vehicle to its launch pad. As today's test was about validating our GNC software logic and command sequences, not about flying high, the use of tethers is a standard and logical safety measure in early flight software testing. 

We hope to be able to share further pics and videos soon once released from NASA.

We will be analyzing the flight data with NASA over the coming days and determine whether we are ready to move on to a closed loop free flight test. We have certainly learned a lot in this flight test series and NASA Marshall and its Mighty Eagle team have been very supportive and helpful throughout. The entire experience has been a great example of collaborative efforts between NASA and the private sector to advance new capabilities of mutual benefit.

We’ll post more news as we come to understand the volumes of data arising from today’s test flight, and meanwhile you can continue to follow the Moon Express / Mighty Eagle post-flight test news through Twitter at @NASAMightyEagle and @Moon_Ex.

~ Bob