NASA Marshall Spaceflight Center (MSFC) is collaborating with Moon Express, Inc. to test the company's flight software on NASA's "Mighty Eagle" prototype robotic lander.
The collaboration is intended to help foster the development of commercial lunar landers for future low-cost missions to the Moon.
Under the terms of a Reimbursable Space Act Agreement signed with Moon Express, NASA Marshall is providing its "Mighty Eagle" lander test vehicle and engineering team in support of a series of test flights to help validate the company's Guidance, Navigation and Control (GNC) flight software. Guidance algorithms developed by Moon Express will be integrated into the existing Guidance, Navigation and Control (GN&C) Software on-board the Mighty Eagle and used to perform a flight test series. In return, Moon Express is reimbursing NASA Marshall for the cost of providing the test vehicle and technical support.
The collaborative test flight series is part of a larger Umbrella Agreement between Moon Express and MSFC for Moon Express hardware and testing support. Yesterday the Mighty Eagle flew a "textbook" flight that helped validate Moon Express Guidance, Navigation and Control (GNC) flight software. This type of software is designed to tell the vehicle where to go and how to get there and is critical for an autonomous soft landing on the Moon. Moon Express GNC software ran in an open-loop mode on yesterday's flight, operating in parallel to the NASA GNC software. Results from yesterday's flight are an important, progressive step in a series of tests proving and validating Moon Express GNC algorithms that will culminate in a closed loop test on the Mighty Eagle next month.
"We are really excited to begin this new series," said Jason Adam, flight manager for the Mighty Eagle at the Marshall Center. "Working with Moon Express to help test their new software is a great example of the types of partnerships NASA is looking to build. By utilizing resources and expertise, we can gather data that will not only be used to better NASA's robotic lander program, but can help advance the commercial sector as well."
Moon Express Principal GNC Engineer Jim Kaidy was a member of the Mighty Eagle development team while at the John Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, and Moon Express Chief Propulsion Engineer Tim Pickens supported the development of the Mighty Eagle rocket engines.
"Our partnership with NASA Marshall Spaceflight Center is key to our goal of landing the world's first commercial spacecraft on the Moon", said Moon Express co-founder and CEO Bob Richards. "We have benefitted from NASA's encouragement and support in every step of our growth and development and we look forward to the results of our flight software tests on the Mighty Eagle".
The collaboration involves a high level of integration and coordination between NASA and Moon Express engineers and is representative of NASA partnerships with the private sector to expand commercial space activities.
Moon Express is a leading contender in the $30M Google Lunar XPRIZE and is headquarted at the NASA Ames Research Park in Silicon Valley with a Propulsion Development Facility in Huntsville, Alabama. The company has been collaborating with NASA for lunar lander development since 2010 when it established a Reimbursable Space Act Agreement with NASA Ames, providing Moon Express access to test facilities and NASA's innovative Common Spacecraft Bus designs currently being flight proven within the LADEE lunar orbiter spacecraft on its way to the Moon.