It has been proposed to place laser or radio transponders at suitably chosen locations on the Moon to increase the accuracy achievable using the Global Positioning System (GPS) or other satellite-based positioning system. The accuracy of GPS position measurements depends on the accuracy of determination of the ephemerides of the GPS satellites. These ephemerides are determined by means of ranging to and from Earth-based stations and consistency checks among the satellites. Unfortunately, ranging to and from Earth is subject to errors caused by atmospheric effects, notably including unpredictable variations in refraction.

The proposal is based on exploitation of the fact that ranging between a GPS satellite and another object outside the atmosphere is not subject to error-inducing atmospheric effects. The Moon is such an object and is a convenient place for a ranging station. The ephemeris of the Moon is well known and, unlike a GPS satellite, the Moon is massive enough that its orbit is not measurably affected by the solar wind and solar radiation.

According to the proposal, each GPS satellite would repeatedly send a short laser or radio pulse toward the Moon and the transponder(s) would respond by sending back a pulse and delay information. The GPS satellite could then compute its distance from the known position(s) of the transponder(s) on the Moon.

Because the same hemisphere of the Moon faces the Earth continuously, any transponders placed there would remain continuously or nearly continuously accessible to GPS satellites, and so only a relatively small number of transponders would be needed to provide continuous coverage. Assuming that the transponders would depend on solar power, it would be desirable to use at least two transponders, placed at diametrically opposite points on the edges of the Moon disk as seen from Earth, so that all or most of the time, at least one of them would be in sunlight.

This work was done by Konstantin Penanen and Talso Chui of Caltech for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For further information, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the April, 2008 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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