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Dundee goes nuts over space lander research

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Dundee University officially opened its Space Technology Centre today, where researchers will work on planetary lander simulators, and develop support technology for space missions. The centre encompasses the Natural Environment Research Council Satellite Receiving Station in Dundee.

Spacecraft can encounter a huge number of problems during the landing phase of an off-world mission, because conditions cannot be fully known. Uneven terrain, such as craters or boulders at the planned landing site, adverse lighting conditions or atmospheric effects could spell disaster for landers, as is thought to have happened with the Beagle 2 Mars lander.

Headed by Dr Steve Parkes, the research facility will test new sensor models and simulation tools to improve simulations of craft landing on planets or asteroids. By changing the variables such as terrain and atmospheric conditions the researchers will establish conditions for safe landings for a particular mission. They will also be able to provide data for the guidance systems so that they can better cope when things are less-than-perfect.

The Space Systems Research Group at Dundee has already had a major influence on space system design. The European Space Agency (ESA) is already using the University’s simulations of Mars and Mercury to develop guidance and navigation systems for its spacecraft. The group also led the technical work on the SpaceWire network standard, which is now being used on many ESA and NASA spacecraft, including a future NASA mission to Mercury. ®

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