Absent an atmosphere, the limit for a minimum-orbit altitude (< 50 km) at the Moon, or other airless body, is currently bounded by the technological limitations of the guidance, navigation, and control (GNC) subsystem. Breakthrough improvements in this subsystem will enable new scientific investigations, such as (1) low altitude, direct sampling of the lunar particles naturally lofted by the complex dynamics of the Lunar exosphere, (2) close proximity examinations of the Lunar magnetic “swirls”, (3) deploying low energy sensors (such as the instrument on Lunar Prospector) to map and quantify water ice deposits, and many others. To access this challenging orbital regime and fly Sustained Low Altitude Lunar Orbital Missions (SLALOMs), Advanced Space is proposing the integrated Auto-maneuver Location Processor using Integrated Navigation Estimates (ALPINE) system, that leverages previous investments by NASA and industry to operate autonomously in this highly demanding and rewarding environment. SLALOM combines spacecraft instruments, particularly Flash LIDAR, that generate high accuracy, real-time in-situ navigation measurements, with the automated ALPINE flight software system needed to process that data with minimal latency. The result is a spacecraft equipped with the navigation knowledge and maneuver design capability needed to maintain extremely low altitude Lunar orbits with limited command and control from Earth.
The spacecraft autonomy capabilities made possible through ALPINE will enable new scientific investigations, such as (1) low-altitude, direct sampling of the lunar exosphere, (2) close proximity examinations of the lunar magnetic “swirls”, (3) deploying sensors to map and quantify water ice deposits, and many others. NASA would also be the prime beneficiary of the capabilities as they apply to the exploration of other airless bodies in the solar system including moons at Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.
Non-NASA applications for ALPINE include support for commercial lunar operations and resource prospecting. Lander systems will benefit from the deployment of sustained low-altitude missions through enhanced landing accuracy and autonomy benefits to their missions.