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NASA’s ‘lunar backpack’ may prevent astronauts from getting lost on the moon

NASA planetary scientist Michael Zanetti tests the backpack at the Potrillo volcanic field in New Mexico.

NASA planetary scientist Michael Zanetti tests the backpack at the Potrillo volcanic field in New Mexico.
Photo: NASA/Michael Zanetti

The moon isn’t where you want to get lost, but it can be a little tricky to track your dusty lane without GPS. 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 lunar terrain.

The Kinetics Navigation and Mapping Kit (KNaCK) is a collaborative effort between NASA and its private sector partners to help future explorers find their way around less.Explore the south polar regions of the moon. KNaCK enables real-time on-demand navigation and operates using a pulsed laser that measures distances to nearby objects and surface properties. On the Moon, the system could provide astronauts with 3D images, Average-Accurate map of the surrounding area, according to to NASA.

This technology is called 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.

The backpack combines high-resolution, real-time video footage, shown in the upper left panel, lidar range data, shown in the upper right panel, and lidar velocity data.
fee: NASA/Michael Zanetti

“Basically, the sensor is a scanning tool for both navigation and scientific mapping, capable of creating high-resolution 3D maps with centimeter resolution and providing them with a rich scientific context,” Michael Zanetti, who leads the KNaCK project at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center said. to be sure. “It will also help ensure the safety of astronauts and roaming vehicles in a confined environment using a GPS like the moon, determining actual distances to distant landmarks, and showing explorers in real time how far they have come and staying at their destination.”

NASA plans to return humans to the Moon by 2025 as part of the Artemis program. But this time, the astronauts will land near the moon’s south pole. This region is of particular interest to scientists, with evidence to suggest that it may contain it groundwater ice which can be used as a valuable resource for lunar exploration.

However, much of the Moon’s south pole is shrouded in shadow, which could make it difficult for future astronauts to estimate stopping distances on the Moon. Because time on the Moon is precious, KNaCK will make it easy to measure the exact amount of oxygen needed to travel without vehicles.

“We as humans tend to orient ourselves by reference points: a specific building, a grove of trees,” Zanetti said. “These things do not exist on the Moon. KNaCK will continuously allow 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 minerals or rock formations, so that others can easily return for further study.”

KNaCK was tested in November 2021 in 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 responsible for 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 strong solar radiation and microgravity to which the Moon is exposed.

Furthermore: NASA has chosen a really nice place to land the next lunar module.

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