(ORDO NEWS) — The lunar south pole requires innovative technologies, as it is still a little explored area. Here the Sun never rises more than 3 degrees above the horizon, leaving much of the area in shadow.
When the astronauts land at the Moon‘s South Pole, their biggest obstacle will be the darkness. In this regard, engineers have developed a special backpack that will form a 3D map of the area in real time, helping researchers in uncharted territory.
Dubbed the Kinematic Navigation and Cartography Knapsack (KNaCK), the backpack uses a ranging laser beam to map the region, along with a frequency-modulated lidar (FMCW) that provides range for millions of measurement points per second.
Michael Zanetti, who leads the KNaCK project, explained the innovation as a super-powered version of the laser rangefinders used by surveyors or high-sensitivity proximity alarms to help smart cars avoid collisions.
“Essentially, the sensor is a geodetic tool for both navigation and scientific mapping, capable of producing ultra-high resolution 3D maps with centimeter precision,” he added.
“This device will also help keep astronauts and rovers safe in a GPS-free environment by determining actual distances to distant landmarks and showing the terrain to researchers in real time,” Zanetti said.
The development of the backpack began in 2020, after which the researchers developed prototypes and associated navigation algorithms that allow accurate mapping without GPS.
Using the backpack, astronauts will be able to accurately see the topography of the landscape, including deep ravines, mountains and caves. NASA said the backpack works even in total darkness, saving astronauts from having to lug bulky lighting rigs wherever they go.
This will allow explorers crossing the surface to determine their movement, direction, and orientation to distant peaks or their base of operations.
They can even mark specific places where they found some unique mineral or rock, so others can easily come back for further study.
The team tested the system in this ancient volcanic crater, estimated to be 25,000-80,000 years old, and also performed a 3D dune reconstruction of the 6-mile-long sea barrier at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The team is currently working on the miniaturization of the equipment, which currently weighs around 18 kilograms.
“Using the latest advances in lidar technology from Aeva, our next-generation spacecraft, backed by Torch Technologies, will be the size of a soda can and will be able to operate on the lunar surface like never before,” Zanetti said.
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