Launch Pad: Lander

Subject Eng Phys

'Space' Award for Air Cadets: Investigation of spacecraft landing


  • to demonstrate control of a lander
  • to be able to resolve forces in two dimensions

Task (30 min)

The software for this activity is either the Flash based Llunar Lander 'game' from the Physics EducationTechnology (PhET) team at the University of Colarado, or an equivalent ‘game’ for iOS by Stuart Bermingham (iPhone and iPad variants available). These free lander simulations feature realistic challenges regarding fuel use and landing site approach. 

1. A useful training strategy is to first ensure that you have adequate control over the vertical component, ignoring any lateral motion. Once you have mastered vertical control you can explore how to control lateral motion, ignoring the vertical motion. 

2. Observe that a simultaneous or sequential combination of vertical and horizontal forces with respect to a spacecraft can produce motion at any angle depending upon the relative strength of the individual components of  thrust.

3. Next, assess the fuel consumption of the different rocket motors - how long can you burn at maximum thrust? Is half the maximum thrust available for twice the time?

4. Finally,  see how you get on with the aim of a soft, landing with zero lateral drift.

PheT: starts with purely vertical approach and should be enough fuel for 5-8 landings, each at a different spot.

iOS: fuel enough for a single landing, but starts with significant horizontal component of velocity that must be reduced.

You are not signed in to this website. More facilities might be available if you sign in.