An experimental laser sensor has been flight-tested at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in California as part of the Autonomous Landing and Hazard Avoidance Technology (ALHAT) program aimed at future robotic lunar missions.
The light detection and ranging (lidar) sensor is designed to recognize the landing site during final descent, detect hazards such as craters or boulders and direct the lander to a safer touchdown spot. For the tests at Dryden, a helicopter flew repeated tracks over two target areas on the dry lakebed, at altitudes increasing from 300 feet to 6,200 feet, while the nose-mounted gimbaled lidar focused on plywood circles simulating surface hazards. Data was collected for post-flight processing.
ALHAT is a five-year program to develop a system providing 100-meter landing accuracy in all lighting conditions. Precision landings will enable the assembly of a lunar outpost from modular payloads landed in close proximity.