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Action! Filming a simulated lunar landing from the dusty desert floor

During future lunar landings, video capture could play an important role in contributing to researchers’ understanding of disturbances in lunar surface materials — called regolith — caused by the lander’s rocket plume.

With support from NASA’s Flight Opportunities program, on Oct. 14, 2021, researchers from Los Angeles-based Zandef Deksit put a high-tech video capture and regolith sensor payload called ExoCam to the test.

The desert environment of Mojave, Calif., provided a stand-in for the surface of the Moon, and the Xodiac vertical takeoff vertical landing platform from Masten Space Systems was the test vehicle.

Simulating the movement of a lunar lander, the VTVL vehicle enabled researchers from Zandef Deksit and co-investigators from Honeybee Robotics to test an ejection mechanism to jettison the ExoCam onto the desert surface at specific altitudes just before landing.

Along with calculations to account for lunar gravity, this helped the team understand the limit of how far from a planetary surface they would need to eject the payload in order for it to survive landing and function properly. Once on the ground, the payload’s camera captured video footage from the unique vantage point of the desert surface. The ExoCam also utilized a regolith sensor developed by co-investigators at Arizona State University to capture data about the quantity of regolith particles picked up by the vehicle’s rocket plume, as well as the speed at which they were propelled as the lander descended onto the surface.

Flight Opportunities rapidly demonstrates promising technologies for space exploration, discovery, and the expansion of space commerce through suborbital testing with industry flight providers. The program is funded by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate at the agency’s Headquarters in Washington, and managed at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calif. NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley manages the solicitation and evaluation of technologies to be tested and demonstrated on commercial flight vehicles.

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