NASA developing 'lunar backpack' to aid space explorers

·1-min read
NASA/Michael Zanetti/Cover Images

NASA researchers and their industry partners have developed a 'lunar backpack' that will be used by future astronauts on the Moon.

The remote-sensing mapping system will aid explorers in the most isolated wilderness imaginable: the airless wastes at the South Pole of the Moon.

The Kinematic Navigation and Cartography Knapsack (KNaCK) is a mobile lidar scanner - a remote sensing method that uses light detection and ranging laser light to measure range.

Donned like a hiker's backpack, it makes use of an innovative type of lidar called frequency modulated continuous wave (FMCW) in order to provide measurement points that instantly create a real-time navigation system.

Think of it as a superpowered version of laser range finders used by surveyors or the highly sensitive proximity alarms that help smart cars avoid collisions, said planetary scientist Dr. Michael Zanetti, who leads the KNaCK project at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

"Basically, the sensor is a surveying tool for both navigation and science mapping, able to create ultra-high-resolution 3D maps at centimetre-level precision and give them a rich scientific context," he explained. "It also will help ensure the safety of astronauts and rover vehicles in a GPS-denied environment such as the Moon, identifying actual distances to far-off landmarks and showing explorers in real-time how far they've come and how far is left to go to reach their destination."

That's a key challenge as Artemis-era explorers prepare to undertake the first modern missions to the Moon, and the first-ever to its South Pole. The Sun never rises more than three degrees above the lunar horizon there, leaving much of the terrain in deep shadow.

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