Landing a CubeSat Payload on the Moon: The Vermont Space Grant Lunar Lander Project

By William D. Lakin and Carl Brandon.

Published by The Design Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

A CubeSat is a payload package having dimensions 10cm x 10cm x 10cm and a mass that cannot exceed 1.33 kg. Prior development of launch technology for this payload format, in particular the Cal Poly P-POD that can hold up to three CubeSats while taking up very little space, has resulted in a significant cost advantage over other types of satellite deployment. Although a number of CubeSats have previously been developed and launched into Earth orbit, none have accomplished missions involving interplanetary navigation. Indeed, because of the strict space and weight restrictions of this payload format, missions requiring on-board propulsion systems and navigation components have previously been considered impractical. However, new calculations indicate that this is no longer the case. Vermont Space Grant Consortium’s CubeSat Lunar Lander Project will use high-energy monopropellant and/or long duration ion thrusters, an enhanced version of NASA’s GPS Enhanced Onboard Navigation System (GEONS) rewritten in Ada/SPARK for enhanced reliability, robotic camera modules as navigation components, and a non-standard low energy transfer strategy through a Lissajous orbit at the Earth-Moon L1 Lagrange point to achieve Lunar orbit insertion and a safe decent to the Lunar surface from an Earth geosynchronous orbit for a three-unit CubeSat payload. An independent feasibility review indicates that the probability for success in this mission is high (70-90%). In addition to considering engineering issues associated with design of the actual payload and mission, the design of a project structure to effectively integrate groups of faculty and students at multiple Vermont academic institutions into a synergistic interdisciplinary project team will be described.

Keywords: CubeSat Format, Lunar Lander, Interplanetary Navigation, Autonomous Mission, Monopropellant Engine, Ion Engine, Static-mobile Wireless Networks, Low Energy Lunar Transfer Trajectories

Design Principles and Practices: An International Journal, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp.79-88. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.049MB).

Prof. William D. Lakin

Professor of Mathematics, Statistics, and Biomedical Engineering, Emeritus, and Director, Vermont Space Grant Consortium, Department of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont, USA

Dr. William Lakin is an applied mathematician in the College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences of the University of Vermont. He is an expert in developing mathematical models to study dynamic mechanisms in complex physical systems. His research interests include fluid mechanics, elastic vibrations, and biomedical problems involving both normal and pathophysiology. He is the author of a textbook on differential equations and over a hundred technical papers in the peer-reviewed professional literature. Dr. Lakin is a past Program Director for Applied Mathematics at the National Science Foundation in Washington, DC. He currently serves as Director of the Vermont Space Grant Consortium and State Project Director for Vermont’s NASA EPSCoR Project.

Prof. Carl Brandon

Vermont Technical College, Randolph, Vermont, USA


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