Shailesh Murali works onsite at Goddard Space Flight Center, Summer 2019. Credit: NASA
SIP, LunaNet, artemis, SCaN, space navigation 

Building Lunar Architectures for Artemis Missions

SCaN Interns Empower Future Space Exploration Missions

By Catherine Tresslar

September 15, 2020

As NASA ventures to the Moon, Mars, and beyond with the Artemis missions, NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) program looks to young minds for innovations that will empower exploration. The Artemis generation will see NASA place the first woman and the next man on the lunar surface. This year’s SCaN intern cohort is working directly on Artemis to tackle the communications and navigation challenges in lunar space.

These interns are contributing to the agency’s vision for the future of exploration by helping to overcome some of the biggest obstacles NASA will face. Crossing these barriers will allow humans to build a sustained presence on the Moon and beyond, beginning a new chapter in scientific history.

This summer, SCaN intern Kyle Craft worked alongside mentor Ben Ashman on lunar landing architectures. The project focused on the navigation technologies that missions to the Moon will require to ensure they land precisely at the intended location. This improved accuracy will guarantee a safe landing for astronauts touching down on lunar regolith.

“It’s pretty exciting working on this project,” Craft said. “I’ve encountered some of the most interesting and difficult engineering challenges facing navigation engineers right now.”

Craft helped extend Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) signal — like GPS signals — usage to lunar distances. GNSS signal data could supplement other methods of tracking, like using ground stations or optical navigation. While Artemis is fueling innovative technologies like high-altitude GNSS, much of Craft’s project framework is still rooted in NASA navigation engineers’ work for the Apollo missions.

“The fundamental mathematics behind pretty much everything I do was developed by mathematicians and engineers solving the same lunar landing problem I’m addressing now,” Craft said.

SCaN intern Shailesh Murali is helping to develop lunar networking capabilities. Led by mentor and ESC architect Dave Israel, Murali has devoted his time and talent to LunaNet, a flexible and extensible architecture that will enable a solar system internet. LunaNet is based on interoperable nodes that are all connected to the same larger network. These nodes will offer networking, positioning, navigation and timing (PNT), and science services to spacecraft at or on the Moon, ensuring seamless access to data across the network, even when a data path to Earth is not immediately available.

Murali identified the communications standards for missions using LunaNet. The document he wrote will help engineers design communications systems for early-stage missions hoping to use LunaNet. Murali has long been fascinated with crewed missions, so the opportunity to have such an impact on Artemis is enormous.

“As someone who went and saw the space shuttle when I was younger and read lots of books about space,” said Murali, “it’s exhilarating that I help contribute to the next phase of human spaceflight. It’s just incredible to me.”

The Artemis missions to the Moon will serve as a proving ground for the technologies needed for interplanetary travel. SCaN interns are a critical part of making these missions possible as they lead the Artemis generation further into the solar system.