NASA developing GPS system…for the Moon

The map on the phone in the background of the dashboard. Black mobile phone with map gps navigation fixed in the mounting. App map for travel.

We all use GPS every day. In fact, if you’re reading this story on your phone, you’re reading it on a GPS receiver. The system works well on Earth, but what if it was used beyond Earth?

Well, NASA announced a plan Friday to take the technology and use it…in space.

The agency announced a team is developing a special receiver to pick up location signals from all 24 to 32 satellites. GPS could be used for the Orion spacecraft, the future Gateway Moon base (slated to orbit around the Moon), and missions on the lunar surface itself.

GPS works by calculating the distance between a receiver (a smartphone or dedicated GPS device) and four or more satellites to pinpoint a location. With a receiver powerful enough, the technology could be paired with a map to help astronauts drive around the moon.

The technology was started back in the early 2000s for NASA’s MMS mission, designed to study interactions between the Earth and Sun’s magnetic field.

Navigator GPS was developed to help keep the four spacecraft from MMS in a tight formation as far as 115,000 miles from the Earth – well above the GPS constellation and roughly halfway between the Earth and Moon.

While MMS is serving as the base for future development, NASA said several enhancements will be needed for lunar use, including a new antenna, enhanced clock, and updated electronics.

If all goes as planned, NASA plans to complete the prototype lunar GPS receiver later in 2019 and explore flight demonstrations in the future.

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