Planetary Lander Technology Projects

Research projects on planetary lander technology that the Space Technology Centre has either led or had a significant role in are described below:

PANGU Asteroids and Whole Planet Simulation

Simulated Asteroid

The PANGU Asteroid and Whole Planet Simulation study extended the capabilities of the PANGU tool to include the realistic generation and visualisation of complete asteroids and the simulation of entire planets to be viewed from orbital distances.

Additional research to enhance the rendering speed of PANGU and to increase the size of terrain that can be modelled within PANGU was successfully completed. This work introduced support for rendering models with the ROAM algorithm and the addition of a dedicated memory management system to allow unused portions of a model to be unloaded from memory.


Various ESA planetary lander missions (e.g. Euromoon 2000) were being considered that required a lander guidance system. A vision-based navigation system had been proposed and prototyped in the ESA 3D Planetary Modelling study led by Joanneum Research (Austria), in which Steve Parkes was involved. The prototype used a physical terrain mock-up and a robotic arm holding a camera, to simulate the descent of a lander towards the lunar surface. Steve Parkes realised that an alternative simulation method was required because of the cost and time taken to build different lunar surfaces. A computer simulation of the lunar surface and camera could be used to provide realistic lunar surface images for testing the vision-based navigation system. Steve received a small contract from ESA to prove the concept and a prototype planet surface simulation system was developed. LunarSim showed that realistic cratered terrain models could be created using fractal techniques. An almost unlimited variety of lunar surfaces could be generated automatically and used for extensive testing of vision-based lander navigation systems.