Research Roundup: Lunar GNSS applications

March 30, 2022  - By
Artist's rendering of the Lunar Pathfinder. (Image: SSTL)

Artist’s impression of the Lunar Pathfinder satellite built by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL) that will provide communications and navigation services for the Moon.

NASA and its international partners are planning a return to our natural satellite. The following three papers — presented at the Institute of Navigation (ION) GNSS+ conference Sept. 20–24, 2021 — discuss the role of GNSS in lunar exploration. The full papers are available at

Using GPS for Time Transfer

NASA and the European Space Agency have conceptualized the initial framework for a GPS-like constellation for the Moon, which will ensure uninterrupted navigation and communication services for future lunar missions. The authors designed a smallsat-based Lunar Navigation Satellite System (LNSS) with time-transfer from Earth-GPS to alleviate the size, weight and power (SWaP) and timing stability requirements of the onboard clocks. A timing filter corrects the lower grade clock when Earth-GPS signals are available and propagates these clock estimates forward in time when no Earth-GPS signals are available. The authors analyzed their proposed time-transfer technique using high-fidelity simulations of an LNSS satellite with an onboard chip-scale atomic clock for three cases of elliptical lunar frozen orbits.

Bhamidipati, Sriramya, Mina, Tara, Gao, Grace, “Design Considerations of a Lunar Navigation Satellite System with Time-Transfer from Earth-GPS,”

GNSS Nav for Moon Missions

The authors show the potential of autonomous GNSS signal-based navigation for a set of Moon scenarios. This technology could be a game changer for the future of lunar exploration, representing an extremely low cost and effective alternative for Moon navigation. Results show that not only autonomous GNSS navigation for lunar orbiters is possible, but it also delivers good navigation performance. In fact, navigation with root-mean-square (RMS) errors on the order of 50–100 meters were obtained for scenarios of high interest, such as for the planned Lunar Pathfinder and near-rectilinear halo orbit of the Lunar Gateway space station around the Moon.

Mangialardo, Marco, Jurado, María Manzano, Hagan, David, Giordano, Pietro, Ventura-Traveset, Javier, “The full Potential of an Autonomous GNSS Signalbased Navigation System for Moon Missions,”

Finding the best lunar orbit

A continuous and reliable lunar positioning and timing system, such as a GNSS-like constellation, is considered essential infrastructure for lunar exploration. The authors focus on halo orbits with the aim of defining an optimal halo constellation for supporting and delivering a navigation service on the Moon. This paper shows the performance of a GNSS-like constellation deployed in Halo orbits around Earth-Moon L1 and L2 collinear libration points. Different phases have been considered, from a minimum number of satellites able to provide a local PNT service on the South Pole (Initial Operational Capability), to a final, extended constellation able to cover the whole lunar surface (Final Operational Capability).

Musacchio, Daniele, Iess, Luciano, Carosi, Mattia, Capolicchio, Jacopo, Eleuteri, Massimo, Stallo, Cosimo, Di Lauro, Carmine, “Design of Earth Moon Halo Orbits for a Global Lunar PNT Service,”