Masten Space Systems, a startup that aims to send a lander to the Moon in 2023, will develop a lunar navigation and positioning system that is not unlike GPS here on Earth.
Masten’s prototype is being developed as part of a contract awarded through the Air Force Research Laboratory’s AFWERX program. Once deployed, it will be the first off-world navigational system of its kind.
By this point, spacecraft headed to the Moon must carry equipment onboard to detect hazards and aid navigation. To some extent, it is understandable that a shared navigation network has never been established: humans have landed on the Moon only a few times, and while there have been many more without landings, lunar missions are still not a regular occurrence. .
But as the cost of going to orbit and beyond has come down drastically, thanks to innovations in launch technology by companies like SpaceX, space is likely to get much busier. Several private companies and national space divisions have set their sights on the Moon in particular. Easy Going One of them is: it was selected by NASA to deliver commercial and private payloads to a site near Howarth Crater at the lunar south pole. That mission, originally scheduled for December 2022, was pushed back to November 2023.
Other organizations are also trying to go to the moon. Chief among them is NASA with its Artemis program, which will send two astronauts to the surface of the Moon in 2024. These missions will likely only increase over the coming decades, making the need for a common navigation network greater.
“Unlike Earth, the Moon is not equipped with GPS, so lunar spacecraft and orbital assets are essentially operating in the dark,” Matthew Kuhns, Masten’s vice president of research and development, explained in a statement.
The system will work as follows: The spacecraft will deploy Position, Navigation and Time (PNT) beacons on the lunar surface. The PNT beacons will enable a surface-based network that transmits radio signals, allowing spacecraft and other orbital assets to be wirelessly connected for navigation, time and location tracking.
The company has already completed the first phase of the project, which includes completing the concept design for the PNT Beacon. The bulk of the engineering challenge will come in Phase II, when Masten develops the PNT beacons. They need to be able to withstand harsh lunar conditions, so Masten is partnering with defense and technology company Lidos to manufacture shock-proof beacon enclosures. The target is to complete the second phase in 2023.
“By establishing a shared navigation network on the Moon, we can reduce spacecraft costs by millions of dollars, increase payload capacity, and improve landing accuracy near the most resource-rich sites on the Moon,” said Kuhns. he said.