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ASI and Qascom to Bring Italy and Galileo Navigation System to the Moon

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
September 14, 2021
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Photo of Mare Crisium taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. (Credit: NASA)

ROME (ASI PR) — Finding the best route for lunar orbit and easy parking on the Moon is the goal of NEIL (Navigation Early Investigation on Lunar surface) GNSS receiver with Software Defined Radio (SDR) technology. The creation of NEIL, named in honor of Neil Armstrong, the first man to touch the lunar soil, is at the center of an agreement between the Italian Space Agency (ASI) and NASA linked to the CLPS 19-D mission (NASA missions with contributions commercial and private of an experimental nature) with which the American space agency has planned to land with a lander in the Mare Crisium basin in 2023. [Editor’s Note: This is Firefly Aerospace’s Blue Ghost lander mission.]

NEIL, subject of the contract signed between ASI and the company Qascom SRL, is the on-board payload that will be an integral part of the experiment called Lunar GNSS Receiver Experiment  (LuGRE), defined in the ASI/NASA agreement, which aims to develop an activity in a lunar and cislunar environment.

For the first time in history, almost 400,000 km away, positioning will be tested with the Global Position System and the Galileo satellite system. It is the first of its kind: no one has ever tried to calculate the position of a spacecraft using satellite navigation satellites over 200,000 km of distance, a limit reached at the moment only by NASA. The mission, in addition to the LuGRE experiment with the NEIL receiver, will bring 9 other scientific and technological experiments to the Moon. Scheduled for the end of 2023, it will be launched by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

Through this contract, Qascom will develop a GNSS reception system for ASI, consisting of a dual frequency and dual constellation receiver and the entire signal reception chain (antenna, LNA, filters), capable of supporting the extreme conditions of the Moon. The system will be integrated aboard NASA’s Blue Ghost lunar lander in early 2022. The weak signals from the side lobes of the GPS and Galileo satellite antennas (not designed to be used outside the Earth) will be processed with specific algorithms, allowing for positioning. space and time, albeit with reduced accuracy, while cruising to the Moon, in lunar orbit and on the surface of the Moon itself.

It is an experiment that will bring Italian technology to the lunar surface and is unprecedented and of strategic importance for the entire country. With its innovation, it contributes to maintaining the competitiveness of the country and its space supply chain, in constantly evolving international contexts and highlights the strong collaboration between the Italian Space Agency and NASA in the navigation sector and in the main areas for future colonization of the moon and later of Mars. 

NEIL is also an important step, both on a technical and scientific level, for future lunar missions, as it will allow us to understand how GPS and Galileo can be exploited on the Moon for positioning and time of the lunar orbiting station (Gateway), the constellations of lunar satellites, and the Artemis program. The raw data collected and processed will be made available to the scientific community to study the lunar and cislunar environment and evaluate the future use of GNSS and its evolutions to support permanent missions.

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