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NASA tests the robotic lander’s prototype propulsion system. Credit: Dynetics Corp.

This week, NASA and Johns Hopkins University tested a new propulsion system for a prototype robotic lander they are jointly developing. While the robot didn’t leave the ground, the “hot-fire” tests successfully verified the performance of its thrusters.

The propulsion system was developed by Dynetics Corp, an engineering company in Huntsville, Alabama. According the NASA press release:

The prototype’s new propulsion system consists of 12 small attitude control thrusters, three primary descent thrusters to control the vehicle’s altitude, and one large “gravity-canceling” thruster which offsets a portion of the prototype’s weight to simulate a lower gravity environment, like that of the moon and asteroids. The prototype uses a green propellant, hydrogen peroxide, in a stronger concentration of a solution commonly used in homes as a disinfectant. The by-products after use are water and oxygen.

The robotic lunar lander is part of a larger NASA project to develop smart, versatile, and autonomous robots that can explore the moon and near-Earth asteroids. The agency’s goal for the robotic lunar lander prototype is for it to fly up to 60 seconds with a controlled landing in a simulated low gravity environment. Flight tests began in 2009 and thus far 142 have been conducted. The robotic lander currently has a record flight time of ten seconds and a descent altitude of three meters.

A flight test in 2009 at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Credit: NASA

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