THE European Space Agency (ESA) has highlighted the importance of technology developed at the University of Dundee to aid the planetary landing of spacecraft.

Planet and Asteroid Natural Scene Generation Utility (PANGU) is a powerful set of tools that model the surfaces of planetary bodies such as Mars, the Moon, Mercury and asteroids using real and synthetic data.

Developed by the University’s Space Technology Centre, PANGU is currently being used by spacecraft engineers around the world, including the team working on ExoMars rover, which is scheduled to touch down on the red planet in 2020.

The ESA has uploaded a presentation on PANGU given by the Dundee team at the space agency’s headquarters in France last year to an area of their website dedicated to promoting the most successful and interesting activities within their development programmes.

Physical mock-ups of planetary and asteroid surfaces often prove inadequate testing grounds for landers and rovers which use vision-based navigation systems. This means high fidelity, real-time simulation of the kind facilitated by PANGU is necessary.

“The main objective of PANGU is to support future ESA planetary lander missions,” Professor Steve Parkes, chair of spacecraft electronic systems at the university, said. “The latest version of the software enhances capabilities and performance, with improved realism and real-time capabilities.

“The latest version we have developed, PANGU-4, is capable of supporting the design of lander and rover vision-based navigation systems through all stages of development.

“We are delighted the ESA has chosen to highlight PANGU and the work we do here to support the space industry across the world and beyond.”

Parkes was the founder of STAR-Dundee, a university spin-out that designs electronic components and test equipment for spacecraft. Its success means technology originating in Dundee is now being used across the world on more than 100 spacecraft.