LITTLE OWL (Low SWAP-C Nighttime Landing Hazard Detection System)

PI: Michael Klug, Joseph Vermeersch (Co-I), Falcon ExoDynamics, Inc.

The Low SWAP-C Nighttime Landing Hazard Detection System (LITTLE OWL) project will test a photogrammetry device that uses the motion of the observing platform to produce very long baseline stereoscopic images in lit and unlit conditions. By combining structured light superimposed over a potential landing area with the latest advances in image processing as well as advances in small, inexpensive lidar, this technology is expected to produce images similar to those achieved with lasers and radar but with lower size, weight, and power needs. Nighttime suborbital flight tests will simulate a lunar descent, providing an opportunity to demonstrate the technology’s capabilities.

Technology Areas (?)
  • NA
Problem Statement

Safe landing on the Moon or other celestial objects requires identifying a location free of hazards including uneven surfaces that preclude spacecraft touchdown. Finding those locations in nighttime conditions or permanently dark environments is especially difficult. Current technologies use lasers or radar to develop 3D point clouds that represent the shapes or objects on the surface. These methods require very high power, complex development, and significant size and weight. This new technology addresses those issues by leveraging advanced image processing techniques and graphics processing hardware along with multi-view monocular photogrammetry. The sensing system is low cost and has very low size, weight, and power needs, which enables its use on small spacecraft. It could be used to support assessment of landing sites by a lander or other platform needing to create 3D point clouds of a scene in low lighting conditions, such as in deep craters or at night.

Technology Maturation

Suborbital flight tests during a nighttime campaign will simulate a lunar descent in areas of the Moon near to permanently shadowed regions on the Moon, demonstrating the technology’s capabilities. After flight testing, researchers will determine the achievable accuracy and timeliness of the 3D map generation from an altitude of 250 to 500 meters. This technology could enable lunar landing or orbital rendezvous capabilities in the future.

Future Customers

• Lunar exploration missions • Martian landers • Other exploration spacecraft needing to land in low-light conditions

Technology Details

  • Selection Date
  • Program Status
  • Current TRL (?)
    Successful FOP Flights
  • 0 sRLV

Development Team

  • PI
    Michael Klug
  • PI Organization
    Falcon ExoDynamics, Inc.
  • Co-I
    Joseph Vermeersch
  • Co-I Organization
    Falcon ExoDynamics, Inc.
  • Sponsor

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