More than just a ‘moon selfie’: Embry-Riddle students sending camera to space

VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. — In a small lab at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, engineering students are putting the final touches on a project three years in the making. If the project is successful, it will last just 15 minutes yet provide information that will help guide missions to the moon and beyond.


The “Eagle Cam” project will send a small box on a lunar probe to the moon in 2022. The camera will jettison from the spacecraft prior to landing, establish a Wi-Fi signal, and capture the first-ever pictures of a lander, landing on the moon’s surface.

“There are so many complex systems at play here, there’s the launch vehicle, you have the lander, and we’re just this small little box, that’s just taking a picture,” said Christopher Hays, a Ph.D. student at ERAU.

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Those pictures will provide information about how landers approach the surface from a unique perspective, a perspective that will provide information for future missions.

“It is so exciting to apply what I’m learning in the classroom to something here in the lab,” said Grace Robertson, a senior aerospace engineering student at ERAU.

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But the “Eagle Cam” will do more than just take pictures — it’ll also test a new way of fighting moon dust.

“The fourth camera is actually a very neat system, it’s something that the engineers down at Kennedy Space Center have been working on for decades since the Apollo missions, which is called an electrodynamic dust shield,” said Dr. Troy Henderson, of the ERAU Space Technologies Lab. “Lunar dust gets stuck to it and it’s very sharp and abrasive. It’s got electrostatic charge so it sticks to things.”

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The box will use electricity to essentially “shake” the dust off, something NASA has tested in the lab, but never been able to test in space.

“You’ve got to think about the astronaut’s visors as we start to return humans to the moon, we’ve got cameras on rovers, we’ve got all of the NASA investment in returning to the moon and many, if not all of these, could have this dust shield involved,” Henderson said.

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After some more testing by NASA, the box will attach to the Nova-C lunar lander for an expected 2022 mission to the moon.

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