A portable comprehensive navigational system has been developed that both robotic and human explorers can use to determine their location, attitude, and heading anywhere on the lunar surface independent of external infrastructure (needs no Lunar satellite network, line of sight to the Sun or Earth, etc.). The system combines robust processing power with an extensive topographical database to create a real-time atlas (GIS — Geospatial Information System) that is able to autonomously control and monitor both single unmanned rovers and fleets of rovers, as well as science payload stations. The system includes provisions for teleoperation and tele-presence. The system accepts (but does not require) inputs from a wide range of sensors.

A means was needed to establish a location when the search is taken deep in a crater (looking for water ice) and out of view of Earth or any other references. A star camera can be employed to determine the user’s attitude in menial space and stellar map in body space. A local nadir reference (e.g., an accelerometer that orients the nadir vector in body space) can be used in conjunction with a digital ephemeris and gravity model of the Moon to isolate the latitude, longitude, and azimuth of the user on the surface. That information can be used in conjunction with a Lunar GIS and advanced navigation planning algorithms to aid astronauts (or other assets) to navigate on the Lunar surface.

This work was done by David Quinn and Stephen Talabac of Goddard Space Flight Center. GSC-15892-1

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the April, 2012 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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