Satellite to test lunar satnav

September 17, 2021 // By Nick Flaherty
Satellite to test lunar satnav
The Lunar Pathfinder satellite being developed by SSTL in the UK will orbit the Moon to provide a data link, and test out how GNSS signals could be used for navigation

The European Space Agency (ESA) has signed a contract with Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) in the UK for a communications satellite to link the Moon and the Earth

The Lunar Pathfinder, due to launch in 2024, will orbit the Moon to provide a link back to the Earth and test out how the GNSS satellite navigation signals might be used on the Moon.

The stable elliptical orbit of Lunar Pathfinder will allow for long duration visibility of the Southern Lunar Hemisphere each day, with maximum opportunities for the transmission and reception of data between Earth and the lunar surface over an eight year lifetime.

As well as offering communication services to orbiters and lunar rovers on the surface, the Pathfinder will as host a number of navigation and scientific experiments including an ESA GNSS receiver capable of detecting weak signals coming from the Earth GNSS infrastructure (GPS and Galileo) to demonstrate its potential role into Lunar navigation. It will also carry a NASA retro-reflector to demonstrate laser ranging capabilities and an ESA radiation monitor to study orbital radiation conditions.

The spacecraft can operate two simultaneous channels of communication with lunar assets, one in S-band and one in UHF: communications are relayed back to Earth ground stations in 7 to 11.6GHz X-band.

Lunar Pathfinder is supported by UK Space Agency funding of £11.6m via the European Space Agency (ESA). UK company Qinetiq is working on the development of plug-and-play X-band user terminals specifically designed for compatibility to the service.

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ESA will be the anchor customer for services from Lunar Pathfinder which will be the first dedicated lunar communications relay spacecraft when it launches in 2024. The agreement establishes ESA’s first commercial lunar services contract to


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