You'll Never Get Lost on the Moon Again

Illustration for article titled You'll Never Get Lost on the Moon Again

If the featureless wasteland of the lunar surface made your last trip there a navigation nightmare, don't feel bad. You're not the only one. With no landmarks to give them perspective or to help estimate distance, astronauts in years past had a hard time finding their way around too. But when NASA establishes a semi-permanent base on the moon a decade or so from now, they won't have that problem thanks to the Lunar Positioning System.


Research conducted at the Ohio State University into navigation on other planets has already paid off with results for the Mars rovers. OSU's Ron Li, professor of civil and environmental engineering and geodetic science parlayed that success into a $1.2 million NASA grant to create a positioning system for the moon. At ground level, it will function much like Earth's GPS system, but it won't use the same methods.

Instead of a network of satellites orbiting the moon, the LPS system, which is technically called the Lunar Astronaut Spatial Orientation and Information System (LASOIS), will rely on maps, motion sensors and lunar beacons. The beacons will detect an astronaut's starting point on the moon, while the sensors will track how far she moves and in what direction. That information will be displayed on a map of the moon's surface based on orbital photos. As a result, the astronaut will know exactly where she is in relation to nearby craters or moon base outposts. They plan to test it in the Mojave Desert and should have plenty of time to get LASOIS ready for NASA's targeted 2020 moon mission date. Image by: NASA.

New Project To Develop GPS-like System For Moon. [Science Daily]


Chip Skylark of Space

What would the height of a Lunosynchronous orbit be? There's nothing in any of those orbital slots around the moon (Earth's Geosynchronous orbit by comparison is a busy place), never having the need for any global weather or comm systems, so instead of a constellation of satellites in a lower orbit like we have in GPS, I would think that we could use 3 satellites to pull off the same functionality (gee, can I speak NASA or what?!) with LPS, and at a correspondingly cheaper price. It's got to be cheaper to do that then to plant beacons around the moon. I bet a single Atlas V launch could place all three satellites in position.