Reported from Dailymail.co.ukas of May 12, the Kinematic Navigation and Cartography Knapsack (KNaCK) is a mobile, backpack-worn LIDAR scanner that uses light and a laser to measure distances.
NASA researchers and industry partners are developing devices that can help astronauts not only in the airless desert at the Moon’s South Pole, but also on Earth.
One suggested use is for mountaineering expeditions in uncharted environments. Hikers can create real-time maps for other people in the party, as well as other hikers who might be chasing them, all from a simple backpack.
Using KNaCK during rover’s voyages on the moon, as well as while traveling on foot, astronauts can precisely map the topography of a landscape, including deep ravines, mountains, and caves. They can even flag important sites for follow-up.
The first woman and first person of color will land on the moon in 2025, as part of NASA’s Artemis program, which will eventually land humans on the surface of Mars.
Worn like a walking backpack, the KNaCK utilizes an innovative type of lidar called frequency modulated continuous-wave lidar (FMCW) to provide Doppler speed and range for millions of measurement points per second.
These measuring points instantly create a real-time navigation system, providing explorers with a 3D ‘point cloud’ or high-resolution map of the surrounding terrain.
It’s like the super-powered version of the laser range finder used by surveyors, or the highly sensitive range alarm that allows smart cars to avoid collisions.
Planetary scientist Dr Michael Zanetti, who leads the KNaCK project, said the sensor was a surveying tool for science navigation and mapping in unusual terrain.
“[Ini] able to create ultra-high-resolution 3D maps at centimeter-level precision and provide them with a rich scientific context,” said Zanetti.
“It will also help ensure the safety of astronauts and rover vehicles in GPS-denied environments such as the Moon, identify actual distances to distant landmarks and show rovers in real time how far they have come and how far remains to be reached. go to achieve their goals.”
That was a major challenge as the Artemis-era rover prepared to undertake the first modern mission to the Moon, and the first to the South Pole.
The sun never rises more than 3 degrees above the region’s lunar horizon, leaving much of the terrain in deep shadow.
That makes distances to various points of interest difficult to reach, requiring maps and data to help astronauts as they plan future bases.
Beginning in 2020 with funding from NASA’s Early Career Initiative, the KNaCK project has partnered with Torch Technologies of Huntsville to develop a backpack prototype and associated navigation algorithm.
This algorithm will allow accurate mapping of the entire planet without GPS.
Lidar even works in dense darkness, so astronauts don’t have to transport complicated lighting equipment wherever they go.
“As humans, we tend to orient ourselves based on certain landmarks or buildings, groves of trees,” says Zanetti.
“Those things don’t exist on the Moon. KNaCK will continue to allow rovers across the surface to determine their movement, direction and orientation to distant peaks or to their base of operations.”
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“They can even mark specific sites where they found some unique minerals or rock formations, so that others can easily come back for further study.”
This is especially important for astronauts who will be working to tight deadlines, with visits limited by the oxygen supply in their suits.
The ultra-high-resolution precision of KNaCK is, by an order of magnitude greater than conventional lunar topographic maps and altitude models, making it a critical resource for conducting science operations and missions, Zanetti said.
The hardware will get another major field test in late April at NASA’s Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI) in Kilbourne Hole, New Mexico.
The team previously put the KNaCK system through its paces in the crater of the ancient volcano estimated to be 25,000-80,000 years old in November 2021.
They also used it recently to perform a 3D reconstruction of a 6-mile-long ocean barrier dune at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Kennedy and Marshall engineers will continue to use KNaCK to assess the impact of hurricanes on dune erosion, ensuring the safety of future flight missions as they refine the system further.
Next, the KNaCK team will work to shrink the hardware, or prototype a backpack weighing about 40 pounds and harden electronics that are sensitive to the deleterious effects of microgravity and solar radiation.