Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong famously had to dodge a boulder-strewn crater just seconds before the first moon landing in 1969 — but for future lunar touchdowns, NASA expects robotic eyes to see such missions to safe landings.
And Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture is helping to make it so.
Today NASA talked up a precision landing system known as SPLICE (which stands for Safe and Precise Landing – Integrated Capabilities Evolution). The system makes use of an onboard camera, laser sensors and computerized firepower to identify and avoid hazards such as craters and boulders.
NASA says three of SPLICE’s four main subsystems — the terrain relative navigation system, a navigation Doppler lidar system and the descent and landing computer — will be tested during an upcoming flight of Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital spaceship. The fourth component, a hazard detection lidar system, still has to go through ground testing.
In a tweet, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said technologies such as SPLICE “can provide spacecraft with the ‘eyes’ and analytical capability” for making safe landings. Blue Origin answered with a tweet of its own:
— Blue Origin (@blueorigin) September 18, 2020