A Bedford man is one of 20 aeronautics students participating in a mission to capture the first third-person photograph of a spacecraft landing on the moon.
“I had to be a part of this. This is literally incredible,” said Will Edwards, a senior at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida. “I am so excited to see images from the moon knowing that we helped make this possible.”
Embry-Riddle is partnering with NASA commercial payload provider Intuitive Machines to send a camera to space that will take the first selfie of the Nova-C Lunar Lander when it reaches the lunar surface in the fall of 2021.
“I really wanted to get involved with this project because I like space and aerospace. It has been really interesting,” said Edwards, 22, who graduated from Bedford High School in 2016.
Edwards is part of the software team involved in the EagleCam mission. He is helping to develop CubeSat, which will deploy and freefall 100 feet from the Nova-C to the lunar surface, all the while taking a series of photographs — if all goes according to plan.
The minimum requirement is a single photograph, but the EagleCam team has high standards and is aiming for multiple photos, Edwards said.
The project has helped Edwards learn NASA frameworks that can be applied now and in the future, he said, adding it is a fitting conclusion to his software engineering studies at Embry-Riddle.
Students have been working on the project since the beginning of the year, which consists of a joint camera and communication system small enough to hold in one’s hand.
The mission will use WiFi on the moon for the first time, according to Edwards, who said an Internet of Things network will also be established on the moon for the first time.
“There is a lot of simulation taking place right now,” he said, explaining the CubeSat should be fully completed in March.
The EagleCam CubeSat also will conduct research contributing to NASA’s Artemis program goal of sending the first woman and man to the moon, according to an announcement.
“In addition to the selfie, Embry-Riddle is supporting Intuitive Machines’ development of the Nova-C lander in the areas of communications and optical-hazard detection and avoidance,” Dr. Troy Henderson, associate professor of Aerospace Engineering and director of the Space Technologies Lab, said in a statement.
“We’re also working on the terminal navigation problem, using the navigation cameras to identify the lander’s final landing location.”
Being able to pinpoint the landing location will directly contribute to the 2024 mission, as well as future space missions, he said.
“In order for humans to safely land and stay on the moon or Mars, precision landing and communications are key. NASA has goals for precision landing near bases, for instance, that are being enabled by our terminal navigation work,” Henderson said.
Maj Mirmirani, dean at Embry-Riddle, said in a statement that the hands-on opportunities for students like Edwards and the 20 others participating in the EagleCam project, will give humankind a new perspective on the moon.
Edwards said the mission has been both challenging and rewarding.
Being able to participate in a project that will ultimately transmit images from the moon and back to earth is both awe-inspiring and fascinating, he said.