Moon GPS System

Ron Li from Ohio State University has developed navigation software for the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity. The navigation system, which could also help future astronauts find their way around the Moon, is not based on satellites; instead, the system will rely on signals from a set of sensors including lunar beacons, stereo cameras, and orbital imaging sensors.

Ron Li has been awarded a $1.2 million grant to develop a navigation system to be used on the Moon. Since the Moon has no landmarks or cues to help determine distance, astronauts might get lost or misjudge a distant object’s size and location quite easily. Quite clearly, such situations could be extremely dangerous. Using sensors, inertial navigation systems, cameras, computer processors, and image processors, Li developed a system designed to make navigation on the Moon easier. 

Li explained that images taken from an orbiting vessel will be combined with images taken from the Moon’s surface to create maps of lunar terrain. Motion sensors located on lunar vehicles and on the astronauts themselves will enable the computers to calculate the current location, while signals from lunar beacons (the lunar lander) and base stations will give astronauts a picture of their surroundings, similarly to images created by GPS devices for drivers on Earth. The entire system has been named the Lunar Astronaut Spatial Orientation and Information System (LASOIS). 

Astronauts who will arrive on the Moon will be equipped with a keypad and screen, possibly located directly on their spacesuits, which will enable the viewing of their location and searching for new destinations. According to Li, the astronauts’ safety is his team’s top priority. The team includes experts in psychology, human-computer interaction, and engineering, who have all worked to make the system as suitable as possible. “We will help with navigation, but also with astronauts’ health,” Li said. “We want them to avoid the stress of getting lost, or getting frustrated with the equipment; lunar navigation isn’t just a technology problem, it’s also biomedical.” 

TFOT has covered the new Crew Mobility Chassis, which is a concept truck for lunar transportation, and NASA’s testing of an inflatable habitat, designed to be used on the Moon. Other related TFOT stories include VELO, the world’s smallest GPS tracker, the Xplorer GPS Smart Shoe, which tracks the wearer’s location and provides a history of their movement, and the new generation of GPS chips, made by the California based company SiRF and the Swiss U-Blox company. 

For more information on the LASOIS, see Ohio State University’s website.