Deployment and Demonstration of Lunar Navigation Aids

The development of lunar navigation beacons by NASA is progressing significantly. These beacons will let future spacecraft localize themselves and identify position, velocity, and time with great accuracy. There is a growing human presence in the vicinity of the Moon, as activities on, near, and around its surface continue to increase. These navigational aids are crucial for allowing spacecraft and people to find their way. Similar to how the Global Positioning System (GPS) on Earth provides navigation signals, the lunar navigation beacons are made to do the same.

The S-band navigation beacon known as Lunar Node 1 (LN-1) was created for lunar uses. As a part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) effort, it was recently constructed at the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC). The mission is presently slated to launch in Q1 2023. The NOVA-C lunar lander, developed by Intuitive Machines, will deliver LN-1 to the Moon’s surface.

LN-1’s objective is to show navigational systems that can enable nearby surface and orbital operations around the Moon. In addition, they will promote autonomy and reduce reliance on heavily used Earth-based communication resources like NASA’s Deep Space Network. The transmission of state and timing data back to Earth will be conducted by LN-1 throughout the mission. The data will be recorded by DSN ground stations to assess performance. Several references need to be visible to users at once to give a real-time solution similar to GPS. Hardware and capabilities from LN-1 could be included in a much bigger infrastructure once this lunar communication network is established.

The LN-1’s design takes advantage of CubeSat parts and Multi-spacecraft Autonomous Positioning System (MAPS) algorithms. Through this, the design enables autonomous spacecraft positioning utilizing navigational measurements. LN-1’s radio will be utilized to perform several things. They include pseudo-noise (PN)-based, one-way, non-coherent range and Doppler tracking in addition to showcasing the MAPS algorithms. The objective is to provide alternative navigation methods and comparisons for assessing performance. The LN-1 CAD models show the LN-1 payload’s small size, and its modular construction enables it to be easily incorporated into a range of host vehicles.

Testing with the expected operational ground stations started after the LN-1 payload was finished and delivered. With these tests, the RF compatibility between the DSN and the LN-1 payload was successfully established. The demonstration confirmed that the DSN is capable of receiving S-band telecommunication signals in all intended operational modes. These modes are necessary to analyze telemetry and range data from LN-1.

Future autonomous lunar asset navigation may be made possible by this new technology and the MAPS algorithms that LN-1 has proven. Future versions of LN-1 are being developed by the MSFC team. They will provide extensive lunar surface coverage. As this is happening, NASA will be investing in communication and navigation facilities in the Moon’s orbit and nearby areas. The development of this subsequent payload will focus on three vital functions: conducting a demonstration of inter-spacecraft navigation, ensuring lunar night survival aboard the payload, and enhancing the signal’s maturity to meet the LunaNet Interoperability Standard for integration, operation, and compatibility with NASA’s planned assets.