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Positioning, Navigation and Timing for Space Robotics

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Research Question: Can We Set up a GPS-like System for the Moon? 

We are entering a new era of Moon exploration. There are more than forty missions planned within the next decade by ten space agencies, not even counting the efforts of private sector companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin. After more than fifty years since the Apollo program, NASA's Artemis mission will land humans on the Moon including the first woman and first person of color. Exploring the Moon also serves as a crucial stepping-stone for the success of future deep space missions. 

With the increase in human and robotic exploration, we must provide Position, Navigation and Timing (PNT) services anywhere on the Moon. Current vision-based methods work poorly in the Moon's polar regions and not at all in the darkness of its night and permanently shadowed craters. We must also enable wireless network communication (e.g. cellular or Wi-Fi) on the Moon to support interactions among a large number of assets on the Moon.

On Earth, the Global Positioning System (GPS) provides not only positioning and navigation, but also timing and synchronization for cellular communications. Can we set up a GPS-like system for the Moon at much lower cost? In this way, we can achieve better PNT services, as well as wireless network communication on the Moon, like what we currently have on Earth.

We are creating technologies for a "Moon-GPS", a lunar satellite navigation system with smaller satellites, perhaps as small as a shoe box, compared to existing Earth-GPS satellites which are as large as a truck. The lunar navigation satellites can function with clocks that are a thousand times cheaper than the atomic clocks on today's GPS satellites. The key idea is that the lunar satellite navigation system will listen to signals already broadcast by the Earth-GPS and process those signals to perform timing and ephemeris corrections. 

Research Team: 

  • Sriramya Bhamidipati 
  • Tara Mina
  • Keidai Iiyama 
  • Alana Sanchez

Related Works: 

  • Sriramya Bhamidipati, Tara Mina and Grace Gao, A Case Study Analysis for Designing a Lunar Navigation Satellite System with Time-Transfer from Earth-GPSNavigation: Journal of the Institute of Navigation. Submitted. [paper]
  • Sriramya Bhamidipati, Keidai Iiyama*, Tara Mina* and Grace Gao, Time-Transfer from Terrestrial GPS for Distributed Lunar Surface Communication NetworksIEEE Aerospace Conference 2022. [paper] [slides]​​​
  • Sriramya Bhamidipati, Tara Mina and Grace Gao, Time-Transfer from Earth-GPS for Designing a SmallSat-based Lunar Navigation Satellite SystemNavigation: Journal of the Institute of Navigation. Submitted. [paper]
  • Sriramya Bhamidipati, Tara Mina and Grace Gao, A Case Study Analysis for Designing a Lunar Navigation Satellite System with Time-Transfer from Earth-GPSProceedings of the Institute of Navigation ITM conference (ION ITM 2022), Long Beach, CA, Jan 2022.[paper] [slides] [video]
  • Sriramya Bhamidipati, Tara Mina and Grace Gao, Design Considerations of a Lunar Navigation Satellite System with Time-Transfer from Earth-GNSS, Proceedings of the Institute of Navigation GNSS+ conference (ION GNSS+ 2021), St. Louis, MO, Sep 2021. Best Presentation of the Session Award. [paper] [slides] [video]