- Dozens of lunar missions are planned for the next decade.
- But right now, there is no satellite navigation system between the Earth and the Moon.
- NASA and ESA are developing ways to help rockets navigate autonomously to the Moon.
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When NASA’s Artemis 1 mission successfully flew around the Moon in November, it showed the world that humans were returning to the surface of our Moon.
NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) aim to put humans on the Moon by 2025 and establish a permanent lunar base in orbit within the next two years. China and Russia are also working together to set up a separate lunar base, with crewed landings scheduled for 2036.
But right now, there’s no GPS to get us there. Astronauts cannot navigate autonomously in deep space, and each mission depends on expertly trained engineers continuously running the mission from the ground.
With missions coming and going it would quickly become unstable.
Space agencies are working to put satellite navigation, or satnavs, on rockets that will travel the 384,400 kilometers between Earth and the Moon. They also plan to build a new navigation network around the Moon. that how
The way space agencies navigate today is complex and expensive.
Currently, the only way to get from point A to point B in space is by performing complex physics-based calculations, which are optimized for each mission.
As the spacecraft drifts through space, the only point of reference is Earth. So it needs to send a signal to Earth to understand where it is, which means there are big blind spots.
NASA completely lost communication with Orion, the spacecraft used in the Artemis 1 mission, as it sped past the Moon. For a few minutes, all the engineers could do was hold their breath and hope that the spacecraft would come out safely on the other side.
It is resource intensive and costly, he pointed out. insider Javier Ventura-Travesat, Chief Engineer of ESA’s Galileo Navigation Science Office. (The US government runs GPS; Galileo is the European version.)
Space exploration now has a way for spacecraft to triangulate their position from space, so that they can navigate autonomously without interference from Earth.
Using Earth’s Satellites to Get to the Moon Could Help
Amazingly, the cheapest way to bring satellite navigation into deep space is to take advantage of satellites orbiting Earth, Elizabeth Rooney, a senior engineer at Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd., told Insider. The company is working with ESA to develop satellite navigation. ,
There are some major problems with this approach. Chief among them is that these satellites point towards the Earth.
This means that most of the signals coming from the satellites are blocked and only a little overflows. The bit that gets out is much weaker than the main signal, and it gets even weaker from Earth.
Given all of these limitations, it may seem that using this signal to navigate the Moon would be impossible. But engineers have spent decades developing sensitive detectors that can tap into that signal from deep space.
And they got it.
In 2019, four satellites were able to determine their positions in space using signals from Earth’s GPS satellites.
The Ventura-TRAVSAT said they were 187,166 kilometers away, about halfway to the Moon.
We Really Need a Way to Get to the Moon Autonomously
The next frontier is detecting that signal in the second half of the journey. But Ventura-Travet is confident.
ESA and NASA are refining their detectors that can take advantage of signals from Earth’s satellites and prepare to test them on upcoming missions to the Moon.
ESA’s receiver, called Navimoon, will be launched aboard the Lunar Pathfinder satellite in 2025 or 2026. ESA predicts that NaviMoon should be able to determine the satellite’s position to an accuracy of about 60 meters, Ventura-TRAVSAT said.
It is hoped that thanks to this detector, the satellite can navigate autonomously around the Moon, he said. It is also very light – weighing about 4 kg in total – and could replace heavy equipment on a spacecraft.
NASA is also working on detectors developed with the Italian Space Agency. They aim to launch the first of these receivers to the lunar surface in 2024 as part of the Lunar GNSS receiver experiment.
There is a kind of “friendly competitive race” between ESA and NASA to get satellite navigation signals from Earth to the Moon, said James Joseph “JJ” Miller, deputy director for policy and strategic communications within Navigation and Space Communications at NASA Headquarters. Said. , insider,
Miller said several other countries have begun investing in deep-space navigation technology.
“Everybody’s got to understand that this is an emerging user that’s not going away, that we really have to prepare and make cis-lunar space, all the space between the Earth and the Moon, as much as possible So strong and reliable with these signs,” he said.
Eventually, we’ll need a satellite navigation network around the Moon.
Signals from Earth’s satellites can transmit spacecraft to the Moon, but once they are on the surface, the signal won’t be very useful.
At that point, these signals can only reach what is visible from Earth, so the dark side of the Moon and the lunar poles are out of range.
Hence the plan to give the Moon its own fleet of communications and navigation satellites, called the Moonlight Initiative. The first node in Moonlight will be NASA’s Pathfinder satellite.
Ventura-TravSat said ESA aims to test a basic lunar infrastructure by 2027 and a more extensive one by 2030.
NASA is also working on building its own network called LunaNet. NASA’s Gateway, a space station the agency intends to send to orbit the Moon, will be another node in the network.
“We envision a type of architecture that has NASA and ESA satellites working together,” NASA’s Miller said.
Lunar Colonists Will Need High-Speed Internet
There’s another commercial aspect to getting humans back to the Moon. Eventually, lunar colonists would set up camp so that they could mine minerals and water, which could be used to power rockets on their way to Mars.
Ventura-Travsat said visitors to the Moon would need to be able to communicate with Earthlings, talk to each other effectively, and be entertained.
Later, lunar colonists may have access to high-speed internet, video conference with loved ones on Earth, streaming And create your own content from space, Ventura-Travet said.
Ventura-Travset said, “I don’t think there’s anyone who would argue that’s not the path we’re going to take.”
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