NASA is developing GPS for Moon
The new GPS is based on a concept called NavCube. It is being developed by combining the GPS used on MMS mission and SpaceCube.
Travelling to the unknown has become easy, thanks to a near-ubiquitous technology called the GPS. Jump into your car, type in the address of your destination in a GPS device and lo and behold you’ll be at the exact location with efficient ease.
Forget some of the legendary GPS fails (you don’t have to look at them by following this link!) A whopping four billion people use GPS to help navigate this world!
So some good samaritan Scientists decided to make a GPS for space travellers, both animate and inanimate. It is expected to reduce the long process and resources consumed in helping rockets navigate.
But, scientists are also looking to make Moon more navigable, but when and how?
The NASA Artemis mission to the Moon, which is expected to send the first women to the Earth’s satellite, along with a man, by 2024, might use GPS.
The earthly GPS system works with the help of three parts i.e. satellites, ground stations and receivers. Both, the satellites ground station and receiver have precisely matched clocks. The receiver on earth receives geolocation and from four or more satellites to map a particular location on the Earth. That’s how we get to see a particular location on map.
Similarly, if we can install an advanced GPS receiver in a spacecraft, it will be able to locate itself in the space too.
There are around 24 to 32 operational GPS satellites that will be help in providing information to the GPS receiver on the Orion spacecraft, the spacecraft going to the moon in 2024. These satellites lie around 12,550 miles above the Earth’s surface.
NASA has been working on a GPS-based navigation on high-altitudes for more than a decade.
Magnetospheric Multiscale mission (MMS) is a mission that studied how the Sun’s and Earth’s magnetic fields connect and disconnect. The mission included cluster of four spacecrafts flying in formation in the shape of tetrahedron at 115,000 mile from the earth’s centre.
“Its use for higher-altitude navigation has now been firmly established with the success of missions like Magnetospheric Multiscale mission (MMS) and the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES). In fact, with MMS, we’re already nearly half way to the Moon.”
This navigator used in MMS mission is able to quickly acquire and track GPS radiowaves even in weak-signal areas. Scientists are planning to use this same navigator for the lunar flying mission.
“NASA has been pushing high-altitude GPS technology for years,” said Luke Winternitz, the MMS Navigator receiver system architect. “GPS around the Moon is the next frontier.”
What needs to be improved in the navigator?
According to scientists, the GPS system used on the MMS project will need a high-gain antenna, an enhanced clock and an updated electronics.
The new GPS is based on a concept called NavCube. It is being developed by combining the GPS used on MMS mission and SpaceCube. SpaceCube is an in-flight reconfigurable data processing system. It helps in improving the computing power and lowering power consumption and cost in a spacecraft.
Scientists have already simulated the lunar GPS receiver and got promising results. They plan to complete more tests related to the lunar GPS by the end of the year.