Development and Flight Experiment of a Skycrane-Like Terrestrial Lander Demonstrator (StarTiger Dropter)

The StarTiger Dropter project was a Research and Technology development of the ESA STARTIGER initiative aiming at developing and improving key technologies for future planetary exploration, in particular for descent and landing missions such as the Mars Precision Lander Mission. The project was led by Airbus Defense and Space (ADS) in Bremen, Germany, and also involved ADS(F), DFKI (D) and IAII(PL).

Spin.Works led the development of the visual navigation and vision-based hazard detection avoidance system.

The project involved building a terrestrial landing test vehicle based on a multi-rotor carrier platform, which was used to deploy an exploration rover mockup using a bridle system. It also involved the construction of a Mars-representative terrain at the Trauen Test Site in northern Germany, in which a pre-defined rock distribution akin to that observed on prior Mars missions was implemented.

The tasks under the responsiblity of Spin.Works comprised:

  • – Descent and Landing Simulation tool for the multi-rotor
  • – Real-time embedded Vision-aided Navigation using multiple sensors: Inertial Measurement Unit, Range measurements, and image-based observations
  • – Real-time vision-based Hazard Detection and Avoidance system

The Visual-Inertial Navigation system was implemented in a Smart Camera and placed below the multi-rotor next to a sensor suite composed of an IMU and a laser range finder. Images were acquired, processed and stored in real-time. The results from the image processing stage then fed to the navigation filter, which produced state estimates at a very high rate to the translational control system, in order to ensure a stable flight and a safe, accurate rover deployment.

Several test flights were performed to demonstrate the ability of autonomously and safely deloying the rover, in April-May 2014. A related ESA activity, albeit far more ambitious, is currently being led by Spin.Works with its’ partners.


For more information on the project, visit the ESA Website at: