New Lunar Satellites Will Allow Astronauts to Travel to the Moon on Their Own

white outer space satellite

The European Space Agency and NASA are collaborating to create a network of lunar satellites that will enable GPS and high-speed internet for space travelers.

The successful launch and return of Artemis ushered in a new era of space exploration and scientific discovery. I will be amazing, but before the big discoveries can be made, astronauts must solve a very Earthbound problem: figuring out where they are.

There is currently no easy way to navigate the 230,000-mile schlep to the Moon, nor is there anything to help you find your way once there.

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It’s not like you can turn right at Hardee’s and hear a reassuring female voice advising you to take a few feet to get there. It takes numbers, and a guy who can do them well in the cockpit or on the ground. This is a problem because the spacecraft can go for long periods of time without communicating with ground control. It’s a complicated and costly system, but thankfully, the international space community is working on it.

The answer could be found in existing technology in the sky. Engineers were able to communicate with sensors 116,300 miles away using Earth-focused satellites.

According to, Surprisingly, harnessing the satellites around the Earth is the cheapest way to bring satnav to deep space, Elizabeth Rooney, a senior engineer for Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd, told Insider. The company is collaborating with the European Space Agency to develop satellite navigation in space.

There are several major issues with this approach. The fact that these satellites point toward the Earth is one of the most notable.

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That means that the majority of the satellite signal is blocked, with only a small amount spilling over. The spillover signal is much weaker than the main signal, and it weakens even further away from Earth.

Given all of these constraints, it may appear that using this signal to navigate to the moon is impossible. Engineers, on the other hand, have spent decades developing sensitive detectors capable of capturing that signal from deep space.

And they were successful.

Four satellites were able to determine their position in space in 2019 by using signals from Earth’s GPS satellites.

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Both the European Space Agency and NASA intend to test even more sensitive sensors on future moon missions in order to zero in on satellite signals. If they can successfully communicate with satellites back home, we may be one step closer to autonomous moon travel. But that won’t be enough for long. We’ll need a fleet of satellites orbiting the moon to help guide humans on the lunar surface. NASA refers to its project as LunaNet, and it is a component of the Gateway space station, which is the pinnacle of America’s plan to return to the moon. It must be designed to work with ESA technology and, eventually, to provide high-speed internet on the moon.

Artemis I launched in November, circled the moon just 81 miles above the surface, and landed on Earth in December. According to, Artemis II, which will transport astronauts around the moon in a similar trajectory, will launch in late 2024. Artemis III, humanity’s first mission to the moon since 1972, could launch as early as 2025./

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