Spacecraft near and far need navigation data to successfully execute their science and exploration objectives. NASA navigation engineers serve ESC in a variety of ways, supporting missions while developing technologies that enhance spacecraft navigation and guidance. Our world-renowned space navigation experts are designing the satellite navigation systems and architectures of the future while serving as navigation experts on the international stage.
ESC assists in the development of new, revolutionary space navigation systems that enhance the agency’s exploration capabilities. The Station Explorer for X-ray Timing and Navigation Technology (SEXTANT) uses the ultra-regular oscillations of distant pulsars, a type of neutron star, for accurate timekeeping. Precise measurements of time are key components of space navigation, usually supplied by atomic clocks. The technologies demonstrated in SEXTANT may provide future missions with a viable alternative.
In the policy sphere, ESC navigation experts advocate for mission-critical documentation of Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) capabilities. GNSS refers to several constellations of GPS-like satellites operated by the U.S., European Union, Russia, China, India, and Japan.
Near-Earth spacecraft have long relied on GNSS signals for accurate positioning, navigation, and timing data, but high-altitude GNSS-based navigation is a priority for the agency. Below an altitude of approximately 1,860 miles, spacecraft in low-Earth orbit can rely on GPS for navigation data, just as users on Earth use their phones to navigate highways.
Beyond this altitude, spacecraft must use specialized equipment and expanded signals from GNSS. NASA has demonstrated GNSS navigation at distances halfway to the Moon and will do so on the lunar surface in the near future.
To prove and test GNSS capabilities on the Moon, ESC is developing the Lunar GNSS Receiver Experiment (LuGRE) in partnership with the Italian Space Agency. LuGRE will fly on a Commercial Lunar Payload Services mission, delivered by Firefly Aerospace of Cedar Park, Texas.
NASA plans to land LuGRE in Mare Crisium, a basin on the Moon spanning about 460 miles. There, LuGRE is expected to obtain the first GNSS fix on the lunar surface. LuGRE will receive signals from both GPS and Galileo, the GNSS operated by the European Union. The data gathered will be used to develop operational lunar GNSS systems for future missions to the Moon.
The LuGRE development effort at NASA is managed by ESC’s Technology Enterprise and Mission Pathfinder Office.
To learn more about LuGRE, check out this publication, which outlines the mission’s programmatic and technical details. Additional papers and presentations can be found in the publications tab above.
Download the document here
LuGRE Point of Contact:
FLIGHT DYNAMICS FACILITY
Managed by the Navigation and Mission Design Branch, Flight Dynamics Facility (FDF) at Goddard Space Flight Center provides comprehensive navigation services to crewed and robotic missions in collaboration with NASA’s Near Space Network. Services provided by FDF include mission analysis, trajectory design, maneuver planning, operations planning, mission integration, and daily support of over 30 operational spacecraft.
The FDF plays a particularly profound role in launches, especially of human spaceflight missions. They track Commercial Crew Program launches using data from NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellite constellation, assuring the safety of astronauts as they ascend to the International Space Station, even in the unlikely event of contingencies like a launch abort scenario.
The FDF is deeply integrated with the ESC teams supporting the Artemis Moon missions. The FDF will provide critical support to the Space Launch System, Orion spacecraft, Human Landing System, and the Gateway space station near the Moon.