NASA plans a manned mission to the Moon in mid-2025. As the agency prepares to return to our natural satellite after 50 years, the agency announced the development of a high-tech backpack that will help astronauts create a 3D map of the lunar terrain, to make a reading of the place and make it easier for them not to get lost.
Called KNaCK (Kinematic Navigation and Cartography Knapsack), or kinematic navigation backpack, the accessory has a real-time navigation system, firing lasers to measure distance and nearby objects, as well as surface features.
With the device, astronauts will have a kind of 3D map of the Moon in high resolution.
“As humans, we tend to orient ourselves based on landmarks — a building or trees. That doesn’t exist on the Moon,” said Michael Zanetti, a NASA planetary scientist, in a statement on the space agency’s website.
“Then, [a mochila] KNaCK will help explorers walk the lunar surface to determine their movements, directions, orientations and distance from their base of operation. They can even mark specific locations where they find unique minerals or rock formations so that others can study them later.”
According to Zanetti, the backpack makes an accurate topographical map of the landscape, including ravines, mountains, and caves. Like some iPhones, the backpack will feature lidar sensors. They emit laser pulses to help obtain information about the location around the user — cars with semi-autonomous driving often also have this type of sensor.
Having distance details in a place like the Moon is critical. As astronauts will have limited supplies of oxygen, knowing the travel time is critical to the success of missions.
At the moment, the backpack is still a “tramboo” of 18 kg. NASA hopes to miniaturize it by 2025 to make it more portable for astronauts. For now, Zanetti himself has been testing mountains on Earth for topographic analysis.
In a second moment, the agency intends to include the same sensors of the backpack in rovers (jeeps). As GPS (global positioning system) does not work on our natural satellite — the location of the apps and devices we use depends on satellites that are in Earth orbit — this equipment can work almost like a “lunar Waze”.