NASA exploring options for navigating on the Moon
NASA is working on solutions for the navigation and communications needs of human explorers for the agency’s Artemis Moon program.
Human lunar exploration is expected to require a varied approach and a combination of sciences in order to support and sustain lunar exploration. Optical navigation, global navigation satellites, autonomous navigation and LunaNet navigation are just a few.
“Artemis engages us to apply creative navigation solutions, choosing the right combination of capabilities for each mission,” Cheryl Gramling, associate chief for technology in the Mission Engineering and Systems Analysis Division at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in an agency press release. “NASA has a multitude of navigation tools at its disposal, and Goddard has a half-century of experience navigating space exploration missions in lunar orbit.”
NASA has a robust catalog of navigational tools developed through all the agency’s expertise in space exploration over the past century.
One technique involves a spacecraft, such as the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, sending a laser pulse to the surface of the Moon and measure how long it takes to return.
Another method could involve relying on images from cameras for optical navigation.
A spacecraft close to the surface could use a computer processing program, such as Terrain Relative Navigation (which was used during the landing of the Perseverance Mars rover), to identify features and calculate its location and course based on reference photos.
Moreover, NASA said it is developing capabilities to allow lunar missions to leverage signals (albeit very weak signals) from Earth-centric global position system constellations.
Once such example, the agency said, is the Lunar GNSS Receiver Experiment, or LuGRE, which is expected to fly in 2023 in partnership with the Italian Space Agency to demonstrate and refine this technique.
These are all short-term solutions for cislunar navigation, however. In the long run, NASA is looking to develop what it calls LunaNet, a set of common standards, protocols and interface requirements to extend internetworking to the Moon and offer “unprecedented flexibility and access to data,” the U.S. space agency said.
This system would initially use many of the above techniques, including Earth-based ground stations, autonomous navigation and “Disruption Tolerant Networking,” but could evolve to include lunar relays satellites or constellations of small satellites to expand the LunaNet infrastructure, NASA said.
All of these potential solutions are being developed to support human exploration of the Moon. The first mission, although unpiloted, is slated to be Artemis 1. Expected to launch in late 2021 or early 2022, the mission will be the first to integrate the Orion multi-purpose crew vehicle and Space Launch System — the most powerful rocket developed by NASA.
The first crewed flight, Artemis 2, could follow sometime in 2023 to send four people on a free-return trajectory around the Moon.
Artemis 3, which could occur as early as 2024, is currently expected to involve the first human landing on the Moon since 1972.
Theresa Cross grew up on the Space Coast. It’s only natural that she would develop a passion for anything “Space” and its exploration. During these formative years, she also discovered that she possessed a talent and love for defining the unique quirks and intricacies that exist in mankind, nature, and machines. Hailing from a family of photographers—including her father and her son, Theresa herself started documenting her world through pictures at a very early age. As an adult, she now exhibits an innate photographic ability to combine what appeals to her heart and her love of technology to deliver a diversified approach to her work and artistic presentations. Theresa has a background in water chemistry, fluid dynamics, and industrial utility.