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Moonshot Soft Landing Study

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Project # 23-124 | Year 1 of 1

Bryan Eleograma, Nick Downsa, NASA, Jacobs Technology

aNevada National Security Sites (NNSS), NASA, Jacobs Technology
This work was done by Mission Support and Test Services, LLC, under Contract No. DE-NA0003624 with the U.S. Department of Energy, the NNSA Office of Defense Programs, and supported by the Site-Directed Research and Development Program. DOE/NV/03624–1931.


The Nevada National Security Sites (NNSS) and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) partnered to support NASA’s Artemis Program and its associated Astronaut Training Program. The NNSS Geoscience Operations group collaborated closely with NASA’s Geoscience Training group on this project. Following a two‐phased technical approach, this project specifically aimed to 1) collect precursor data in high‐value NNSS training locations, and 2) update the mapping and in‐situ training resources for these training regions. The tasks, deliverables, and collaboration outlined here are fundamental to the successful training of Artemis astronauts at the NNSS in their preparation to return to and explore the Moon.


The Artemis Program is NASA’s Moon exploration program that will return humans to the lunar surface for the first time since the end of the Apollo program in 1972. In partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA), Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), NASA successfully launched the unmanned Artemis 1 mission in fall of 2022. The Artemis 3 mission, scheduled for launch in 2025, will land humans near the lunar south pole in search of water, ice, and suitable locations for a future lunar base.

Technical Approach

For this project, we followed a two-phased technical approach.

Phase 1

We created digital elevation models (DEMs) by collecting topographic imagery via aerial methods in three specific high‐value NNSS training locations, identified as “space testbeds.” The three high‐value training regions include Schooner Crater, Yucca Flat Region, and Buckboard Mesa.

Data collection was conducted by the NNSS Remote Sensing Laboratory (RSL). All image data were collected from an altitude of 2,500 feet above ground level. The average ground sample distance is 7 cm and was used to create a DEM processed at a spacing of three times the image’s ground sample distance (GSD) (21 cm). Ground Control Points (GCPs) were positioned at predetermined locations in the flight path for high resolution georeferencing.

Phase 2

We conducted in‐situ sampling and digital mapping of the high value target areas. Using the remote sensing data collected in Phase 1 and in conjunction with in-situ sampling and mapping, it was proposed to digitally update the previous mapping of the three primary training regions.

Results and Technical Accomplishments

Phase 1 Results

RSL successfully collected remote sensing data on all three proposed testbeds. Overflights of Schooner Space Testbed (see figure) and Yucca Flat Space Testbed were collected in May of 2023. Overflight of the Buckboard Mesa Space Testbed was collected in June 2023.

Phase 2 Results

This portion of the project was scheduled for December 2023 and was funded by and conducted with NASA scientists and engineers.

In addition to supporting NASA testing and training efforts, over two dozen of NASA’s commercial, academic, and national lab partners have expressed interest in utilizing the NNSS as a Lunar/Martian analog testbed. The concept of a Nevada Space Proving Ground (NSPG) at the NNSS would serve the needs of these customers, and the NNSS would become one of the primary testing and training grounds for all robotic and human missions bound for the Moon and Mars. This work has further developed and matured a partnership between the NNSS and NASA, as part of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between NASA and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) regarding their mutual interest in continuing their longstanding collaborative activities to further U.S. Space Policy. The proposed work was meant to collect the data required, provide the updates needed, and help develop the training products that are critical to a successful field training location for NASA astronauts. In addition, this continued partnership will impact the NNSS and the surrounding communities by adding anticipation and enthusiasm about their role in following in the footsteps of the nation’s Apollo lunar landing history while helping the future of human spaceflight.

Conclusions and Path Forward

The NNSS has been supporting America’s space program since the Apollo era. Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and other astronauts learned how to collect and catalogue geologic samples in a cratered volcanic terrain, and specifically mentioned the value of their NNSS training while they were on the moon. As a direct continuation of this feasibility study, collaborators on this project have developed a program to create mission-scale lunar and martian testbeds that could be utilized by commercial companies, academic institutions, national laboratories, and other government agencies to test equipment, people, and processes in realistic off-world settings. This program has been named Nevada Space Proving Grounds (NSPG) and our vision is to create the premier testing and training center for all people and equipment leaving planet Earth.

“The Moon and Mars run through Mercury”

RSL Digital Elevation Model of Schooner (May 2023)

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