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NASA’s lunar backpack will help astronauts generate real-time 3D maps

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NASA’s lunar backpack will help astronauts generate real-time 3D maps

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Researchers at US-based National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) have developed a remote-sensing mapping system called the Kinematic Navigation and Cartography Knapsack (KNaCK) that is expected to aid explorers in the most isolated wilderness at the South Pole of the Moon.

NASA’s lunar backpack will help astronauts generate real-time 3D maps
Explorers on the moon will soon have the ability to generate a real-time 3D map of the lunar terrain, thanks to a new device being developed by NASA and industry partners Torch Technologies and Aeva.
Researchers at US-based National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) have developed a remote-sensing mapping system called the Kinematic Navigation and Cartography Knapsack (KNaCK) that is expected to aid explorers in the most isolated wilderness at the South Pole of the Moon.
What is the KNaCK?
The KNaCK is a mobile Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) scanner that uses light detection and ranging laser light to create ultra-high-resolution maps in real time when an astronaut walks on the surface of the moon. The scanner uses as the frequency modulated continuous wave (FMCW) LiDAR which provides Doppler velocity and range to make millions of measurement points per second. The measurement points are then used to create a navigation system, which will deliver a 3D “point cloud” or high-resolution map of the surrounding terrain to the astronaut.
At present, the KNaCK is carried in a backpack and weighs around 18 kg. However, in the future, the plan is to incorporate the sensor into a smaller device that can attach to an astronaut’s helmet.
Who are involved in the project?
The KNaCK project was initiated in 2020 with funding from NASA’s Early Career Initiative. It has partnered with Torch Technologies to develop the backpack, while commercial vendor Aeva Inc is supplying the FMCW-lidar sensors. Engineers have already conducted field tests of the KNaCK prototype which has proved to be effective. In November 2021, the technology was used to map a volcanic crater in New Mexico. Apart from this, it has also helped in the 3D reconstruction of sea barrier sand dunes at NASA's Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.
How will it help astronauts?
The gear will help ensure the safety of astronauts and rover vehicles even in areas where GPS is not available such as the moon, NASA quoted planetary scientist Dr Michael Zanetti, who leads the KNaCK project at the space agency, as saying. Zanetti added that the tool would also help in “identifying actual distances to far-off landmarks and showing explorers in real time how far they’ve come and how far is left to go to reach their destination”.
The technology is likely to be used in the upcoming Artemis missions to the moon that will see the first landing of a crew on the lunar surface since 1972. The mission is also the first-ever to the South Pole of the moon which mostly remains in the shadow as the sun never rises more than 3 degrees above the lunar horizon there.
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