Future Missions & Technology

Astrobotic delivers precise and highly accurate planetary missions

Astrobotic’s Future Missions and Technology (FM&T) team is building the space robotics technology of tomorrow. From surface and subsurface robotics platforms, to precision landing and hazard detection systems, to GPS-denied navigation frameworks, to mission planning software, we deliver cutting-edge technology that pushes the envelope of what is possible in space missions. If you have interest in partnering, licensing, or purchasing our technology, please email us at research@astrobotic.com.

Terrain Relative Navigation and Hazard Detection

Astrobotic is developing visual terrain relative navigation (TRN) and LiDAR-based hazard detection to enable precise and safe planetary landings on the Moon, Mars, and beyond. We were the first commercial company to use TRN and hazard detection to guide a suborbital launch vehicle to a safe landing site. We continue to refine these systems to minimize size, weight, power, and cost. Our TRN system won a NASA Tipping Point contract and will fly to the Moon on our Peregrine lander in 2021. Both our TRN and hazard detection systems will be used to land NASA’s VIPER rover at the south pole of the Moon on our Griffin lander in 2023.

Visual-Lidar-Inertial Navigation

Astrobotic is developing AstroNav, a software framework for multi-sensory robotic navigation and mapping. AstroNav will enable free-flying spacecraft to rapidly explore dark, unmapped, GPS-denied environments such as lunar skylights and icy moons. AstroNav has been extensively tested on Earth in caves, tunnels, and lava tubes. It seeks to overcome the key challenges of accurate position determination, transitions between light and dark environments, and robust operation in flight scenarios. AstroNav leverages factor graph-based simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) with incremental smoothing to optimally fuse multiple types of sensors in real time.

Simulation for Landing and Exploration

LunaRay is a physically accurate planetary renderer and suite of software tools for planning precision landings and rover traverse paths. It uses topography and ephemeris data to produce photometrically accurate renderings of the lighting conditions on the lunar surface for any location and time. This is especially useful for polar missions, where long, sweeping shadows can cause the lighting conditions to change dramatically. LunaRay can also generate ground station line-of-sight and Earth elevation maps for telecommunications planning. LunaRay incorporates real-time physics-based ray tracing and employs state-of-the-art photogrammetric methods to synthesize high-resolution DEMs from orbital images and LiDAR data.

Space Station Acoustic Monitoring

Astrobotic and Bosch Research have partnered to develop SoundSee. This instrument will assist crewmembers on the International Space Station (ISS) by flying through the station aboard NASA’s Astrobee robot to acoustically monitor ISS systems and predict when maintenance is needed. The program is part of a research collaboration between Astrobotic, NASA, and the ISS National Laboratory. SoundSee launched in 2019 and will conduct its first experiments aboard the ISS in 2020.

Surface Autonomy and Multi-Agent Robotic Missions

Astrobotic develops custom designs, sensor systems, and rovers for planetary surface activities such as autonomous exploration, site preparation, and resource extraction. For example, we are developing co-localization technology for teams of rovers to enable faster exploration and greater productivity in future planetary missions. This technology consists of compact sensing hardware and novel software techniques for teams of autonomous vehicles to jointly estimate their positions relative to one another, navigate more precisely, and carry out mission goals more effectively. Learn more about our individual rover vehicles on our Planetary Mobility page.

Mission Planning Software

Astrobotic has developed software for planning rover missions. The software provides a graphical user interface for mission engineers and scientists to interactively explore scenarios involving different landing sites, mission durations, and safety margins. Robust and efficient route-planning optimization algorithms take into account time-varying conditions, rover capabilities – such as climbing ability and energy requirements – risk specifications, and the sequencing of science objectives. The software can also be applied to spatiotemporal planning tasks on Earth in fields such as mining, agriculture, and aerial surveying.

Mission planning

Mission planning software field test at Astrobotic’s local lunar analog test site