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Designing a Better Lander with Generative Design

Customer Story

NASA's JPL used generative design technology to design a concept lander with 35% less mass and improved performance.
Can AI help us design better for space exploration? Autodesk and JPL are testing the use of generative design on this concept space lander, which has been developed to withstand the rigors of space travel.

The Search for Life is Expanding

Scientists think the most likely places to find extraterrestrial life in our solar system are the moons of Saturn and Jupiter—hundreds of millions of miles away from Earth. Getting landers to these distant areas presents far greater design and engineering challenges.

An interplanetary lander needs to perform complicated operational functions in temperatures far below zero and withstand radiation levels thousands of times greater than on Earth, and it has to have enough fuel to get where it’s going. Weight at liftoff is a critical consideration. Every kilogram of mass that can be cut from the structural payload enables a critical increase in the scientific payload of sensors and instruments to search for life beyond earth.

To meet those challenges, JPL and Autodesk have engaged in a multi-year collaborative research project so that JPL can explore new approaches to design and manufacturing processes for space exploration, with the custom application of Autodesk’s generative design technology.

Exploring New Approaches to Designing a Lander

Generative design is a relatively new design approach that uses machine intelligence and cloud computing to quickly generate a broad set of design solutions that fit within the specific constraints set by engineers. It enables design teams to explore a much wider design space while still being bound by manufacturing and performance requirements dictated by the team or environment.

Generative design is often associated with 3D printing, which is well-suited for the complex, organic-looking shapes that the software produces based on user specifications. But the software also gives users the ability to set constraints for their other manufacturing processes. “We now have the ability to help our customers solve for their multiple manufacturing constraints simultaneously, which adds CNC machining and casting options in addition to 3D printing,” explains Davis. 

Reducing the Mass of an Interplanetary Lander by 35%

While other software programs can optimize a single part for stiffness and weight, Autodesk’s generative design technology is unique in its ability to allow customers to take into consideration alternate design strategies and produce an entire array of viable solutions, rather than just a single optimized version.

For the lander project, the JPL team explored the use of experimental generative design technology for multiple structural components, including the internal structure that holds the scientific instruments, and the external structure that connects the lander legs to the main payload box. The team has been able reduce the mass of the external structure by 35% compared with the baseline design that they started with.

"The team was not looking for incremental gains. If we could deliver software tools to help JPL achieve a performance improvement of 30% or more, then we had their attention. This project demonstrates that Autodesk technologies may deliver mass savings at this level." 
- Mark Davis, Senior Director of Industry Research, Autodesk

Generative Design accelerates your product development process

Expand your ability to deliver innovative design and engineering solutions. The generative design process takes manufacturing into account early in the design stage of the development process so you can get to market faster.

How to access generative design