Many people claim that the moon landing is the epitome of human space exploration. Although it is—and always will be—an unforgettable milestone, it was still incredibly dangerous. With plans to return to Earth’s closest celestial neighbor, NASA has recently developed a new system that will make landing on the moon much safer.
For bonus points, the system will also work for a Mars landing. It is called Safe and Precise Landing Integrated Capabilities Evolution (SPLICE).
The system utilizes a suite of laser sensors, cameras, and high-speed computers to make intense calculations. SPLICE is capable of landing without the need for a human pilot.
Going back to the moon via the Artemis missions will be another monumental undertaking. However, this time around it is just a stepping stone. NASA is pursuing a manned mission to Mars within the next 10-20 years. Although the feasibility of that timeline remains in question, SPLICE helps clear the way for smoother missions.
“Our job is to put the individual components together and make sure that it works as a functioning system,” he adds.
The SPLICE system makes it possible for future missions to land in a variety of locations. The Apollo astronauts were limited to a landing area of about 11 by three miles. SPLICE is able to identify safe zones that are about half the size of a football field. This would allow astronauts to touch down near boulders, craters, and in other seemingly hazardous locations.
SPLICE first determines where it is by comparing scans of the lunar surface with a database of known landmarks. Then, at a height of three to four miles from the surface, it uses lasers to identify the safest landing site. Algorithms power all of the calculations to make the safest decision possible.
Just like all space missions, SPLICE won’t fly its first trip with humans on board. Instead, NASA will test the system on an upcoming Blue Origin New Shepard rocket flight. The date for that mission remains unknown.
Rather than landing on the moon, SPLICE will try to find terrain on Earth where the New Shepard rocket can safely land.
NASA currently aims to land astronauts—including the first woman—on the moon by 2024 via the Artemis program. With that in mind, the clock is ticking for SPLICE.
The system isn’t just for NASA’s moon and Mars missions, though. The agency believes that SPLICE addresses a major pain point for the entire spaceflight industry.
John Carson, the agency’s technical integration manager for precision landing, says, “There’s no commercial technology you can go out and buy for this. Every future surface mission could use this precision landing capability, so NASA’s meeting that need now.”
It’s clear that a system like SPLICE is necessary with plans to send humans back to the moon. By developing it now, NASA will be ready for the upcoming Artemis missions.