NASA is officially gearing up for a return to the Moon. And this time the space agency is testing out some sweet new technology to send with its next legion of lunar astronauts. Specifically, they’re making a space backpack that will prevent astronauts from getting lost.
Now, Neil Armstrong, of course, did not saunter the Moon’s surface with a snazzy backpack to keep him on track. But NASA’s upcoming Artemis missions feature a visit to a lunar landing he and his contemporaries never visited: the Moon’s South Pole. According to NASA, the South pole is a pretty gnarly place to explore. It doesn’t get a lot of sunlight. That means visibility is pretty difficult most of the time. This is where the backpack comes in.
The backpack, called Kinematic Navigation and Cartography Knapsack (KNaCK), features radar technology. This technology creates a 3D map of the area in real-time. (We first saw this at Gizmodo.) This will help the astronauts exploring the South Pole find their way.
Here’s how NASA describes its space backpack:
The Kinematic Navigation and Cartography Knapsack (KNaCK) is a mobile lidar scanner – a remote sensing method that uses light detection and ranging laser light to measure range. Donned like a hiker’s backpack, it makes use of an innovative type of lidar called frequency modulated continuous wave (FMCW) lidar in order to provide Doppler velocity and range for millions of measurement points per second. These measurement points instantly create a real-time navigation system, delivering to the explorer a 3D “point cloud” or high-resolution map of the surrounding terrain.
In the press release NASA and the project leaders elaborated on the benefit to having KNaCK on the next missions. Using the backpack’s technology, astronauts can accurately map the area around them. Plus the lidar technology works in complete darkness. But there’s also a safety component: the astronauts rely on oxygen tanks. This means all their missions are on a very strict time schedule. Getting lost could be deadly.
NASA is still performing field tests on KNaCK. But should all go according to plan, the team will then make the necessary tweaks to make the backpacks space ready.