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NASA and Italy to send first GNSS receiver to the Moon

September 15, 2021  - By

A GNSS receiver is scheduled to land on the Moon in 2023, sent by NASA and the Italian Space Agency (ASI). The innovative GPS and Galileo receiver, provided by Qascom, will experiment with satellite-based positioning on the lunar surface.

The project, dubbed NEIL (Navigation Early Investigation on Lunar surface), is at the center of an agreement between ASI and NASA, linked to the CLPS 19-D mission (NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Service, Task Order 19).

The NEIL payload will be integrated into the Lunar GNSS Receiver Experiment (LuGRE), an ASI/NASA cooperation framework to develop activities in lunar and cislunar environments.

For the first time in history, GNSS positioning will be tested at almost 400,000 kilometers from Earth. The previous limit was a distance of 200,000 kilometers, tested in the  Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS)  project.

NEIL will be integrated on the NASA’s Blue Ghost lunar lander in 2022. In addition to the NEIL payload, nine other experiments will land on the Moon. The mission is expected to be launched via a SpaceX Falcon 9, and the lander with aim for the Mare Crisium basin.

Artist's conceptualization of Artemis astronauts using LunaNet services on the Moon. a unique approach to lunar communications and navigation. The LunaNet communications and navigation architecture will enable the precision navigation required for crewed missions to the Moon and place our astronauts closer to scientifically significant lunar sites, enhancing the our missions’ scientific output. (Image: NASA/Resse Patillo)

Image: NASA/Resse Patillo

Moon-Hardened Receiver

Under an ASI contract, Qascom will develop the dual-frequency GPS and Galileo receiver, as well as the entire radiofrequency chain (antenna, LNA, filters), all of which can withstand the extreme environmental conditions of the Moon.

The GPS and Galileo signals received from NEIL will be extremely weak due to the distance from Earth, and will be processed with specific algorithms allowing to calculate position and time, even if with reduced accuracy, both during the Moon transfer orbit and on its surface.

Image: NASA

Image: NASA

“This experiment is of strategic importance for Italy, since it will bring our technology to the Moon surface,” stated the Italian Space Agency. “It contributes to strengthening the competitiveness of the Italian space sector and consolidates the strong collaboration between the Italian Space Agency and NASA in the satellite navigation segment as well as in the future Moon and Mars missions.”

NEIL provides also an important technical and scientific contribution to study how GPS and Galileo could be used for positioning and timing in future Moon missions, including for example the deployment of lunar satellite constellations, lunar rovers, the lunar space station Gateway and the infrastructures that are going to be developed in the frame of Artemis programs. The raw measurement collected will be used by the research community to study the lunar and cislunar environment and evaluate the future use of GNSS to support permanent missions.


Also see:

NASA explores upper limits of GNSS for Artemis mission

About the Author:


Senior Editor Tracy Cozzens joined GPS World magazine in 2006. She also is editor of GPS World’s newsletters and the sister website Geospatial Solutions. She has worked in government, for non-profits, and in corporate communications, editing a variety of publications for audiences ranging from federal government contractors to teachers.

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