The moon isn’t where you want to get lost, but it can be a little tricky trying to track your dusty step without a GPS in place. Fortunately, space engineers may have found a way around this limitation, by designing a portable backpack aimed at creating a real-time 3D map of the moon’s terrain.
Kinetic Navigation and Mapping Bag (KNaCK) is a collaborative effort between NASA and its private industry partners to help future explorers find their way around lessExplore the south polar regions of the moon. KNaCK allows for real-time, on-demand navigation, and operates using a pulsed laser that measures distances to nearby objects and surface characteristics. On the moon, the system could provide backpacking astronauts with 3D images, Average-Accuracy map of the surrounding area, according to to NASA.
This technology is referred to as frequency-modulated continuous wave lidar, and is capable of providing the speed and range of millions of measurement points per second, including the speed and distance between turbulent dust particles. This is, in short, impressive.
“Essentially, the sensor is a scanning tool for both scientific navigation and mapping, capable of creating ultra-high-resolution 3D maps with centimeter-level accuracy and giving them a rich scientific context,” Michael Zanetti, who leads the KNaCK project at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center said, in statment. “It will also help ensure the safety of astronauts and roving vehicles in a restricted environment using GPS such as the moon, determining actual distances to distant landmarks and showing explorers in real time how far they have come and how far left to go to reach their destination.”
NASA plans to return humans to the Moon no later than 2025 as part of the Artemis program. But this time, the astronauts will land near the moon’s south pole. This area is of particular interest to scientists, with evidence to suggest that it may contain them subsurface water ice which can be used as a valuable resource for lunar exploration.
However, much of the Moon’s south pole is shrouded in shadows, which could make it difficult for future astronauts to estimate distances to lunar stops. Because time on the Moon is precious, KNaCK will make it easy to measure the exact amount of oxygen needed for non-vehicular trips.
“As humans, we tend to orient ourselves based on landmarks—a specific building, a grove of trees,” Zanetti said. “These things do not exist on the Moon. KNaCK will continually enable surface explorers to determine their movement and direction and direct them to distant peaks or their base of operations. They can even pinpoint specific locations where they have found some unique mineral or rock formations, so that others can easily return for more. of study”.
KNaCK underwent testing in November 2021 at an ancient crater in Potrillo, New Mexico, and another test is scheduled for late April at NASA’s Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI) in Kilburn Hall, New Mexico. The team behind the navigation system is working to reduce the weight of the backpack, which currently weighs about 40 pounds, and to protect the electronics from the harsh sunlight and microgravity of the Moon.
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