NASA is developing technologies that will allow landing vehicles to automatically identify and navigate to the location of a safe landing site while detecting landing hazards during the final descent to the surface. This is important because future missions -- whether to the Moon, an asteroid, Mars or other location -- will need this capability to land safely near specific resources that are located in potentially hazardous terrain.
Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va., has designed three light detection and ranging (lidar) sensors that together can provide all the necessary data for achieving safe autonomous precision landing.
One is a three-dimensional active imaging device, referred to as flash lidar, for detecting hazardous terrain features and identifying safe landing sites. The second is a Doppler lidar instrument for measuring the vehicle velocity and altitude to help land precisely at the chosen site. The third is a high-altitude laser altimeter providing data prior to final approach for correcting the flight trajectory towards the designated landing area.