NASA’s high-tech lunar backpack aims to map surface of moon

NASA is testing a high-tech backpack with technology that could be used by astronauts to create highly detailed maps of the lunar surface.

Michael Zanetti, a NASA planetary scientist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, walks the Cinder cone in New Mexico’s Portillo volcanic field in late 2021 and tests the backpack-sized prototype for NASA’s Kinematic Navigation and Cartography Knapsack (KNaCK), a mobile lidar scanner now in development to support lunar exploration and science missions. NASA/Michael Zanettic

NASA and industry partners Torch Technologies and Aeva have developed a remote-sensing mapping system called the Kinematic Navigation and Cartography Knapsack (KNaCK), which uses mobile lidar scanner technology to create ultra-high-resolution maps in real time as an astronaut walks over the surface. of the moon. The equipment can make millions of measurement points per second and can also be used for navigation to improve the safety of astronauts crossing the lunar surface on foot and also in a rover.

The technology will be used in upcoming Artemis missions that will see the first manned moon landings since 1972, and while it’s currently carried in a backpack, the intention is to incorporate it into a smaller device that can be attached to a helmet’s helmet. astronaut can be confirmed.

KNaCK is expected to play an important role in lunar missions as astronauts will explore the moon’s south pole, much of which is in deep shadow and therefore difficult to see.

“Basically, the sensor is a measurement tool for both navigation and scientific mapping, capable of creating ultra-high-resolution 3D maps with centimeter precision and giving them rich scientific context,” said planetary scientist Dr. Michael Zanetti, leader of the KNaCK project at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. “It will also help ensure the safety of astronauts and rover vehicles in a GPS-less environment, such as the moon, by identifying actual distances to distant landmarks and showing explorers in real time how far they have come and how far. they still have to go to reach their destination.”

Zanetti said people tend to use landmarks such as buildings and trees to orient themselves, but since those things don’t exist on the moon, KNaCK technology will enable lunar explorers to “change their movement, direction and orientation to distant peaks.” or to their base of operations, they can even mark specific places where they have found a unique mineral or rock formation so that others can easily return for further exploration.”

Engineers have already tested a prototype of KNaCK to map an ancient volcanic crater in New Mexico, as well as create a 3-D reconstruction of the six-mile-long sea barrier dunes at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The team is now working to miniaturize the hardware and make it robust enough to comfortably handle the challenges of microgravity and solar radiation.

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