We’re pretty much relying on the GPS everywhere we go these days. Why not do the same on the Moon? NASA is looking into it as we speak.
A spacecraft is able to figure out its location with precision, due to the fact that the stars are fixed. On Earth, things are pretty simple and we rely mostly on GPS to tell us where we are.
Due to the fixed stars — satellites in geosynchronous orbits — which are constantly emitting signals, our devices can detect those signals and locate themselves.
Theoretically, there’s nothing stopping GPS signals from being measured out on the moon. Actually, NASA has already done it with the MMS mission a couple of years ago.
“NASA has been pushing high-altitude GPS technology for years,” said MMS system architect Luke Winternitz in a NASA news release. “GPS around the Moon is the next frontier.”
Using phones out there is not an option, of course, because our devices are calibrated for sampling and calculating only signals from satellites known to be in orbit, on a certain range of distances.
On the Moon, the time for the signal to reach us would take perhaps a full second and a half. Maybe it doesn’t sound much, but it significantly affects how the receiving and processing systems have to be built.
Therefore, the team at NASA Goddard has been working on that with a new navigation computer which uses a special high-gain antenna, along with a very precise clock.
Their goal is to use GPS instead of NASA’s network of ground and satellite measurement systems. This way, those systems could work on other missions and allow more of the GPS-capable satellite’s communications be dedicated to science projects.
NASA hopes to finish the lunar NavCube hardware by the end of the year, and then test it as soon as possible, through a flight on the Moon.