This NASA backpack will keep astronauts from getting lost on the Moon

This NASA backpack will keep astronauts from getting lost on the Moon

NASA planetary scientist Michael Zanetti tests the backpack in the Potrillo Volcanic Field in New Mexico.

NASA planetary scientist Michael Zanetti tests the backpack in the Potrillo Volcanic Field in New Mexico.
Photo: NASA/Michael Zanetti

The Moon isn’t the kind of place you want to get lost in, but it can be a little tricky trying to retrace your dusty steps without a GPS system installed. Fortunately, space engineers may have found a way around this limitation, designing a wearable backpack intended to generate a real-time 3D map of the Moon’s terrain.

Kinematic Navigation and Cartography Knapsack (or KNaCK) is a collaborative effort between NASA and its private industry partners to help future explorers navigate the less explored regions of the moon’s south pole. KNaCK activates an on-demand, real-time navigation system and operates using a pulsed laser that measures distances to nearby objects and surface features. On the Moon, the system could provide backpack-wearing astronauts with a high-resolution 3D map of their surroundings, according to The NASA.

The technology is known as frequency modulated continuous wave lidar and is capable of providing speed and range for millions of measurement points per second, including speed and distance to disturbed dust particles. It is, in a word, impressive.

The backpack combines real-time high-definition video footage, as shown in the upper left panel, lidar range data, shown in the upper right panel, and lidar velocity data.
GIF: NASA/Michael Zanetti

“Essentially, the sensor is a surveying tool for both navigation and scientific mapping, capable of creating ultra-high resolution 3D maps with centimeter accuracy and giving them rich scientific context,” said Michael Zanetti, who leads the KNaCK project at NASA. Marshall Space Flight Center, in a Release. “It will also help keep astronauts and mobile vehicles safe in a non-GPS environment like the Moon by identifying true distances to distant landmarks and showing explorers in real time how far they have traveled. and the distance they still have to travel to get to Earth.” your destiny.”

La NASA planea enviar nuevamente humanos a la Luna a partir de 2025 como parte del programa Artemis. But this time, the astronauts will land near the South Pole of the Moon. This area is of particular interest to scientists, with evidence suggesting it may contain frozen water below the surface that can be used as a valuable resource for lunar exploration.

However, much of the Moon’s south pole is covered in shadows, which could make it difficult for future astronauts to gauge distances to their lunar destinations. Since time spent on the surface of the Moon is precious, KNaCK will make it easy to measure the exact amount of oxygen needed for extravehicular excursions.

“As humans, we tend to orient ourselves based on landmarks: a specific building, a grove of trees,” Zanetti said. “These things don’t exist on the Moon. KNaCK will continuously allow explorers traversing the surface to determine their movement, direction, and orientation to distant peaks or their home port. They can even mark specific sites where they’ve found a unique mineral or rock formation, so others can easily return to investigate further.

KNaCK underwent testing in November 2021 in an ancient volcanic crater in Potrillo, New Mexico, and is scheduled to undergo another test in late April at NASA’s Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI) in Kilbourne Hole, New Mexico. . The team behind the navigation system is working to reduce the weight of the backpack, which currently weighs around 40 pounds, and to protect the electronics from the harsh solar radiation and microgravity encountered on the Moon.


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