Image: 3-D printed planetary models

June 30, 2017, European Space Agency
Credit: ESA–G. Porter, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

3-D-printed scale models of asteroids and other planetary bodies are used for real-life testing of spacecraft navigation and landing systems – martian moon Phobos seen in the foreground here.

"The models are based on accurate digital elevation data gathered from past space missions," explains Olivier Dubois-Matra of ESA's Guidance, Navigation and Control Section.

"We then add colour and surface finishing. Asteroids and comets do tend to be very dark – the images usually seen have been lightened and enhanced to reveal detail."

Mobile cameras manoeuvre around a model – to give the equivalent of a spacecraft's eye-view – enabling the real-world testing of guidance and landing software and systems, which are often based on the mapping of surface features.

Such physical testing can be carried out in parallel to virtual testing, such as that carried out using the dedicated 'Planetary and Asteroid Natural scene Generation Utility' or Pangu software.

Tomorrow, 30 June, is international Asteroid Day, spreading the word on the tiny bodies that Earth shares space with, as both a scientific resource and a potential danger.

Explore further: Robot arm simulates close approach of ESA's asteroid mission

Related Stories

Image: Mascot-2 lander model

May 26, 2016

This half-scale model of the Mascot-2 asteroid lander will be on display at next week's ILA Berlin Air Show.

Recommended for you

Radio nebula discovered around the pulsar PSR J0855–4644

March 21, 2018

Using the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT) in India, an international team of astronomers has detected a diffuse radio emission forming a nebula around the pulsar PSR J0855–4644. The finding is reported March 9 ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.