A 2023 lander in the moon’s Mare Crisium will carry the first GNSS receiver to that planet’s surface: the Navigation Early Investigation on Lunar surface (NEIL) receiver with software-defined radio (SDR) technology. The receiver will spring from agreements between the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Italian Space Agency (ASI) and the Italian firm Qascom srl.
Qascom will develop a GNSS reception system for ASI, consisting of a dual-frequency and dual-constellation receiver and the entire signal reception chain (antenna, LNA, filters), capable of supporting the extreme conditions of the moon. The system will be integrated aboard NASA’s Blue Ghost lunar lander in early 2022. The weak signals from the side lobes of the GPS and Galileo satellite antennas (not designed to be used outside the Earth) will be processed with specific algorithms, allowing for positioning, space and time, albeit with reduced accuracy, while cruising to the Moon, in lunar orbit and on the surface of the Moon itself.
The receiver will be part of the onboard payload of the Lunar GNSS Receiver Experiment (LuGRE), defined in the ASI / NASA agreement, which aims to develop an activity in a lunar and cislunar environment. LuGRE will fly on one of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) missions. The mission will also bring 9 other scientific and technological experiments to the Moon. Scheduled for the end of 2023, it will be launched with a Falcon 9 carrier from Space X.
Positioning will be tested with both GPS and Galileo systems for the first time in history.
NEIL constitutes an important step, both on a technical and scientific level, for future lunar missions, as it will allow us to understand how GPS and Galileo can be exploited on the Moon for positioning and time of the lunar orbiting station, for the constellations of lunar satellites, the Artemis programs. The raw data collected and processed will be made available to the scientific community to study the lunar and cislunar environment and evaluate the future use of GNSS and its evolutions to support permanent missions.