LunaNet, DTN, lunar habitat development, TDRS, LCRNS 

New Lunar Project to Support Artemis

By Katherine Schauer

March 8, 2022

NASA's Lunar Communications Relay and Navigation Systems (LCRNS) project Credit: NASA/David Ryan

As NASA approaches the Artemis I launch, a new era of lunar exploration begins.

Through the Artemis missions, NASA will return to the Moon but this time to stay. The program’s overall goal is to have humans and rovers living and working on and around the Moon so that we can experience long-duration human spaceflight and habitation in space. NASA is working toward these goals so that one day we can place humans on Mars.

Prior to this future, the aerospace industry must address key challenges - like establishing robust communications and navigation services from the Moon.

Back in 2019, NASA started LunaNet, a large-scale architecture that will standardize networking and tracking on and around the Moon. Currently, NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) program is developing specifications with its national and international partners so that government, industry, and academia can all be a part of the larger lunar network. These standards will be used to build the communications and navigation systems integrated into rovers and orbiters so that they can stay connected to each other and Earth.

Now, to further support lunar capabilities, the Exploration and Space Communications (ESC) projects division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, has established the Lunar Communications Relay and Navigation Systems (LCRNS) project.

The LCRNS project is enabling an approach that will allow missions at the Moon to communicate to Earth-based ground stations and to other lunar assets. A part of this approach includes lunar relays. NASA has been leveraging relay satellites since 1983 when the first Tracking and Data Relay Satellite launched. With relays, NASA can increase communications coverage and exploration opportunities because missions are not required to have direct, line-of-sight connections to antennas.

With relays in lunar orbit, NASA can land missions anywhere on the Moon, including the far side, and not have to worry about the communications link. This will alleviate landing site issues, increase science data return, and allow missions - like rovers - to travel almost anywhere.

The LCRNS project was established in January 2022. Check back here to learn more about the project as it progresses.