Pangu – simulating planetary close encounters

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The high performance of ESA’s new generation ‘Planetary and Asteroid Natural scene Generation Utility’ or Pangu software enables real-time testing of both landing algorithms and hardware.

‘Entry, descent and landing’ on a planetary body is an extremely risky move: decelerating from orbital velocities of multiple km per second down to zero, at just the right moment to put down softly on an unknown surface, while avoiding craters, boulders and other unpredictable hazards.

But Pangu can generate realistic images of planets and asteroids on a real-time basis, as if  approaching a landing site during an actual mission. This allows the testing of landing algorithms, or dedicated microprocessors or entire landing cameras or other hardware ‘in the loop’ – plugged directly into the simulation – or run thousands of simulations one after the other on a ‘Monte Carlo’ basis, to test all eventualities.

Seen here is a Pangu recreation of the Mars Curiosity’s rover’s approach to Mars, using original telemetry, and then a view of Mars moon Phobos.

This is followed by another recreation the Japanese Hayabusa probe’s encounter with the rubble-strewn Itokawa near-Earth asteroid, and finally a telemetry-based recreation of  the field of view of the New Horizons mission as it performed its rapid flyby of Pluto.

This new generation of Pangu was developed for ESA by the University of Dundee in Scotland.

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