- Ten moon missions are planned within the next decade.
- Now there is no navigational satellite between the Earth and the Moon.
- NASA and ESA are developing ways to help rockets navigate autonomously to the moon.
When NASA’s Artemis 1 mission successfully flew around the moon in November, it showed the world that humans are on track.
NASA and the European Space Agency aim to put boots 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 establish a separate lunar base, complete with seaports by 2036.
But now, there is no GPS for us. Astronauts cannot navigate autonomously in deep space, and every mission relies on trained engineers to continuously direct missions from Earth.
That will quickly become expedient with missions going back and forth.
Space agencies are working to place navigation satellites, or satnav, on rocks that run 239,000 miles between Earth and the moon. They are also planning to build a whole new navigation system around the moon Here’s how.
How heavy and expensive are space navigation agencies today?
Today, there is only one way to go from point A to point B in space, so multiple physical calculations are common to every mission.
When it moves through space, the only point of reference is the Earth. Therefore, it is necessary to paint a signal to the Earth, so that it understands where it is, which means a huge blind spot.
NASA completely lost communication with Orion, the spacecraft used by the Artemis 1 mission when it went behind the moon. For a few moments, all the engineers could do was hold their breath and hope to see the spaceship emerge from the other side.
This process is intensive and expensive, Javier Ventura-Traveset, chief engineer of Navigation Sciences at OSA’s Galileo Office, told Insider. (The US government runs GPS; Galileo is the European version).
What space exploration needs now is a way for space to triangulate a location from space so they can navigate freely without input from Earth.
They could help by using Earth’s satellites to reach the moon
Surprisingly, the cheapest way to bring a satnav to deep space is to connect satellites around the Earth, Elizabeth Rooney, senior engineer at Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd, told Insider. The company is working with ESA to develop navigation satellites in space.
There are a few big problems with this approach. Among which these satellites point towards the Earth.
This means that the signal is blocked by most satellites and has little redundancy. The bit that spills over is much weaker than the main signal, and it gets even weaker the further away from Earth it is.
Given all these constraints, it would seem impossible to sail to the moon with this signal. But engineers spent decades developing sensitive detectors that could pick up a signal from deep space.
and they succeeded.
In 2019, four satellites were able to determine their position in space using signals from Earth’s GPS satellites.
They were 116,300 miles away — about halfway to the moon, Ventura-Traveset said.
We really need an autonomous way to go all the way to the moon
The next term detects that signal on the other side of the road. But Ventura-Traveset is confident.
ESA and NASA refined their detectors that could pick up signals from Earth satellites and tested them on future moon missions.
ESA’s receiver, named NaviMoon, is due to launch the Lunar Pathfinder satellite in 2025 or 2026. ESA predicts that NaviMoon would be able to determine the satellite’s position with a precision of about 60 meters (about 200 feet), Ventura-Traveset said.
The hope is that because of this detector, the satellite will be able to navigate autonomously around the moon, he said. It is also light weight, about 4 kilograms (8 pounds) altogether, and could replace much heavier equipment on the spacecraft.
NASA is also working on detectors, while the Italian Space Agency is developing them. They plan to send the first receivers to the lunar surface in 2024 as the Lunar GNSS Receiver Experiment.
“It’s a little bit of a friendly competition” between ESA and NASA to bring an Earth satnav signal to the moon, James Joseph “JJ” Miller, deputy director of Policy and Strategic Communications within the Space Communications and Navigation Program at NASA Headquarters, told Insider in an interview.
Miller said many other countries have begun looking to invest in deep space navigation technology.
“All to note that this is an emerging user that is not going away, we actually have and prepare and make the cis-lunar space, the entire space between the earth and the moon, as robust and reliable as possible with them,” he said.
Finally, we need a network of navigation satellites around the moon
It is possible to get a signal from Earth’s space satellites up to the moon, but once they are stuck on the surface, the signal won’t be very useful.
At that point, these signals can only reach what is visible from the earth, so on the side of the moon and the dark poles of the moon are off-limits.
Thus, the plan to give the moon its own fleet of communication and navigation satellites, which they call the Lunar Project. The first node in the Moon’s light would be NASA’s Pathfinder satellite.
Ventura-Traveset said ESA aims to test the basic infrastructure of the Moon by 2027, and the more comprehensive infrastructure by 2030.
NASA is also working on building its own network, called LunaNet. NASA’s Gateway, the space agency’s plan to launch on the moon, was another node in the brass.
“Or we’re thinking of some kind of architecture that would have NASA and ESA satellites working together,” NASA’s Miller said.
Moon inhabitants will need high-speed internet
There is a more commercial aspect to getting men back to the moon. In the long run, moon colonists would need to set up camps to mine minerals and water – which can be used to fuel rockets on the way to Mars.
Visitors to the moon will need to be able to communicate with Earth, communicate effectively with each other, and be entertained, Ventura-Traveset said.
Down the line, moon colonists could have access to high-speed internet, video-conference with loved ones on Earth, stream shows and create their own content from space, Ventura-Traveset said.
“I don’t think there’s anyone who would argue that it’s not a fun way,” Ventura-Traveset said.
#GPS #moon #NASA #ESA #decide #humans #return #years