The US National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) is working on a collaborative government project to bring GPS mapping to the Moon, said the agency’s director at the GEOINT Symposium 2023.
The NGA plans to create a lunar reference framework that future explorers of the Moon can use to help orientate themselves. The GPS system could prove useful as national space agencies and commercial entities increasingly look to establish a presence on celestial bodies like the Moon.
The NGA, which is responsible for providing geospatial intelligence for military and civilian stakeholders, is also busy developing technologies to model the Earth’s gravitational field.
NGA developing GPS for the Moon
“Just as NGA’s predecessor agencies mapped the Moon ahead of the Apollo missions, today we’re working with NASA, the US Geological Survey, the US Space Force, and US Space Command to develop the lunar geodetic system that will guide future visitors around the moon surface as accurately and as safely as GPS does on Earth,” commented Vice Adm. Frank Whitworth, director of the NGA, during his keynote speech at the GEOINT Symposium 2023.
The agency is expected to contribute to the development of numerous celestial body reference systems in the future, with the lunar framework likely being among the first systems to map the moon.
“Just about everyone who uses space realized we needed something that was an equivalent of WGS84 for our terrestrial kind of orientation. And it’s a big deal,” Whitworth told reporters.”
The World Geodetic System 1984 (WGS 84) is a coordinate reference frame that provides three-dimensional information, including latitude, longitude, and heights, essential for navigation and positioning purposes. It serves as a universal geodetic reference system for the Earth, utilized in mapping, charting, geopositioning, and navigation applications worldwide.
“And we’re not going to rush to failure on this one,” Whitworth continued. “We’re actually really taking the right amount of time, both with ourselves and academic and other communities to ensure that we do it right.”
Research and development
Providing a GPS system for the moon will pose a significant challenge as the necessary information to create the lunar reference has not yet been collected.
“The moon as a planetary object operates very differently than the Earth. We know the types of data we need to collect. But we don’t necessarily know how to collect it in that type of an environment because our tools aren’t building that,” explained James Griffith, who heads the NGA’s Source Operations and Management Directorate.
However, once the lunar reference framework has been successfully developed, it will be available to commercial entities and civilian bodies, not just the military and government.
“However we land on this, this is truly…breaking ground in science,” added Griffith.
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