2010

Space-Frame Lunar Lander

This structure would deform itself to sit stably on rough terrain.

The space-frame lunar lander is a conceptual spacecraft or spacecraftlike system based largely on the same principles as those of the amorphous rover and the space-frame antenna described in the two immediately preceding articles. The space-frame lunar lander was originally intended to (1) land on rough lunar terrain, (2) deform itself to conform to the terrain so as to be able to remain there in a stable position and orientation, and (3) if required, further deform itself to perform various functions. In principle, the space-frame lunar lander could be used in the same way on Earth, as might be required, for example, to place meteorological sensors or a radio-communication relay station on an otherwise inaccessible mountain peak.

altLike the amorphous rover and the space-frame antenna, the space-frame lunar lander would include a trusslike structure consisting mostly of a tetrahedral mesh of nodes connected by variable- length struts, the lengths of which would be altered in coordination to impart the desired overall size and shape to the structure. Thrusters (that is, small rocket engines), propellant tanks, a control system, and instrumentation would be mounted in and on the structure (see figure). Once it had landed and deformed itself to the terrain through coordinated variations in the lengths of the struts, the structure could be further deformed into another space-frame structure (e.g., the amorphous rover or the space-frame antenna).

Also like the amorphous rover and the space-frame antenna, the space-frame lunar lander could be designed and built using currently available macroscopic electromechanical components or by exploiting microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), nanoelectromechanical systems (NEMS), or carbon nanotubes, and any or all of these versions could include control systems based partly on evolvable neural software systems. The areal mass densities of these versions are expected to be comparable to those of the corresponding versions of the space-frame antenna.

This work was done by Steven A. Curtis of Goddard Space Flight Center. For further information, contact the Goddard Innovative Partnerships Office at (301) 286-5810. GSC-14848-1