Optical Navigation to the Moon

There is great interest in lunar missions. The U.S. plans to land astronauts on the moon in this decade. Several commercial companies are working on landers. Many other national space programs are working on their own landers and rovers.

As with all spacecraft, you need to know where you are. The traditional way is to use a communications link from the ground to get range and range rate (via Doppler shift.) This works well but you need to collect data over a long period of time to get an 3-dimensional fix.

Recently, NASA discovered via the Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission (MMS), that GPS could be used at altitudes higher than the GPS altitude, and maybe all the way to the moon!

Princeton Satellite Systems developed an Optical Navigation System for NASA as part of an SBIR project. It uses two cameras. One is a navigation camera mounted on a 2-axis gimbal that looks for nearby planets or asteroids. A second camera points out of the orbit plane just looking at the star field. The navigation camera has sufficient dynamic range so that it can image a planet or moon and still see stars. The whole system works as a sextant, that has been used by mariners for hundreds of years. The Apollo astronauts used a sextant for backup navigation. Our system automates the process so that it is fully autonomous. Our simulations for the SBIR were for deep space missions, like simulated NASA Messenger and New Horizons spacecraft, and for communication satellites.

Recently we’ve customized the system to lunar missions. The following images are from a MATLAB script that simulates a transfer from the Earth to the Moon. The first is from the star camera pointing out of the orbit plane. The numbers are the star id from a list and don’t correspond to numbers in the Hipparcos Catalog which is used for the star simulation.

The second is the navigation camera, that points at the moon. The star moves as the relative angle changes. The circle around the moon is its disk.

The third shows the trajectory. It starts from behind the Earth. A lunar orbit insertion is done when the spacecraft reaches the moon.

Here is the spacecraft in lunar orbit.

The simulation runs until the spacecraft reaches the moon. The following video shows the simulation in action.

The simulation uses functions coming out in the 2020.1 release of the Spacecraft Control Toolbox. Contact us for more information!

This entry was posted in General by Michael Paluszek. Bookmark the permalink.

About Michael Paluszek

Michael Paluszek is President of Princeton Satellite Systems. He graduated from MIT with a degree in electrical engineering in 1976 and followed that with an Engineer's degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics from MIT in 1979. He worked at MIT for a year as a research engineer then worked at Draper Laboratory for 6 years on GN&C for human space missions. He worked at GE Astro Space from 1986 to 1992 on a variety of satellite projects including GPS IIR, Inmarsat 3 and Mars Observer. In 1992 he founded Princeton Satellite Systems.

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