Jacqueline Hochheiser, Corporate Communications

The Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU), located in Daytona Beach, Florida, has partnered with a private Texas-based company, Intuitive Machines, to send a lunar lander to space equipped with a camera that will capture a spacecraft landing from a third person perspective for the very first time. Mini-Circuits is helping to get this historic effort off the ground by providing cables to support the lander’s RF capabilities. The project will give ERAU’s students the chance of a lifetime to get hands-on experience in the field and become part of the future of space exploration.

Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C Lunar Lander

The lunar lander mission began when NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program granted Intuitive Machines a budget to design a lander that would carry five of NASA’s own payloads to the moon in addition to Intuitive Machines’ own objectives for the mission. Intuitive Machines is a private American company based in Houston, Texas that provides autonomous systems (a network or group of networks that have a unified routing policy) for spacecraft, spacesuit modeling, drones and a number of other applications.

Their lunar lander, named Nova-C, was designed as a technology demonstration to contribute to ongoing lunar research. The lander will be the first to employ new autonomous hazard avoidance and precision landing systems using navigational cameras. It will also be testing a high-performance cryogenic liquid oxygen and liquid methane integrated propulsion system during the landing.

Nova-C is equipped with solar panels that provide around 200W of power to support its 24/7 data coverage capabilities (250 Kbps – 6 Mbps). The lander is prepared to accommodate 100 kg (220 lb.) payload capacity, as well as over 9 square meters of payload mounting surface.

Nova-C is set to land on the Moon in the Ocean of Storms, a plain of land at a low elevation, in Q1 of 2022. The lander will be hitching a ride on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket lifting off from Kennedy Space Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida. But Nova-C will be taking one more important payload to the moon. A unique camera designed by the students of ERAU known as EagleCam, will be the first in history to capture a spacecraft landing from a third-person perspective.

ERAU Helps Prepare Nova-C for Liftoff

ERAU is a private university primarily focused on the aviation and aerospace industries, and Mini-Circuits is excited to serve as a partner to the university throughout the Nova-C project by providing critical products for RF systems. ERAU’s strong background in the aerospace field has led to many of its alumni following career paths with industry-leading companies. One such alumnus, Steve Altemus, began his career at NASA and founded Intuitive Machines in 2013. He now serves as the president and CEO.

In an effort to give back to his alma mater, Altemus proposed that students from ERAU should be involved in the Nova-C lander project. The unique opportunity presents students the ability to expand beyond textbook theory and implement what they’ve learned in a real-world spaceflight systems project. The ERAU students were tasked with designing a camera, EagleCam, that would not only capture Nova-C’s landing from a third person point of view, but that would also aid in analyzing other technology demonstrations aboard the lander.

EagleCam is a deployable CubeSat payload that will eject from Nova-C while it is in its landing phase and free-fall 100 ft to the moon’s surface. During its fall, the camera will continuously capture images as Nova-C lands, subsequently gathering footage of the performance of the experimental cryogenic landing system. While on the moon, EagleCam will also capture photos of the surface to help uncover new scientific findings about the terrain. In addition, EagleCam will aid in dust accumulation analysis and a new technology system that will “shake” moon dust off the lander.

Image courtesy of ERAU

During Nova-C’s landing, dust plumes will result in EagleCam’s lenses becoming coated with moon dust, a very fine substance that carries electric charge. ERAU and NASA signed a cooperative agreement to test an electrostatic dust removal system that will remove the dust accumulated after landing and over the duration of the mission. The system will use an electric field of the opposite charge that will repel the dust while EagleCam takes photos before and after the process to evaluate effectiveness.

Of course, designing EagleCam and ensuring the technology was robust enough to withstand its journey into space came with its challenges. The structural components of the camera would need to be able to handle the harsh conditions of a rocket launch, and several test cameras were sent into suborbital flight in early 2021 to test the technology’s durability. EagleCam would also need to be prepared for space conditions including extreme temperatures and radiation. With a team of knowledgeable aerospace engineers behind the students, the team was able to adequately prepare EagleCam for its journey.

Nova-C and EagleCam are set for launch in the first quarter of 2022 with the hopes of furthering human understanding of the moon and demonstrating new technology that will enhance future explorations. Keep an eye out for more information on the mission as the launch date draws nearer to see what secrets EagleCam uncovers on the surface of the moon. Mini-Circuits is proud to support the advancement of space technology, as well as supporting hands-on experience for students in engineering fields.

Sources:

  1. Eagles to Land First Student Project on the Moon to Snap Selfie of Lunar Landing (Mike Cavaliere, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University News)
  2. What is the Moon’s Ocean of Storms (Deborah Byrd, EarthSky)
  3. Nova-C Lunar Lander (Intuitive Machines)
  4. EagleCam CubeSat Camera System (Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University)
  5. To the Moon: EagleCam Prepares for Historic Mission (Melanie Azam, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University News)
  6. NASA Space Science Data Coordinated Archive: Intuitive Machines Nova-C (NASA)
  7.  SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket Will Launch Private Moon Lander in 2021 (Mike Wall, Space.com)
  8. To the Moon: ERAU’s EagleCam (Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University)
  9. What is an Autonomous System (CouldFlare)