Credit: NASA Ames Research Center

A team at NASA’s Ames Research Center has created a simulated lunar environment to study lighting conditions experienced at the unexplored poles of the Moon.

Because of low angle sunlight and soil that reflects light like a blanket of fresh snow, navigating the lunar surface at the poles could be hazardous for rovers.


The team uses a “Lunar Lab” testbed at Ames – a 12-foot-square sandbox containing eight tons of JSC-1A, a human-made lunar soil simulant.

Craters, surface ripples and obstacles are shaped with hand tools, and rocks are added to the terrain in order to simulate boulder fields or specific obstacles. Then they dust the terrain and rocks with an added layer of simulant to produce the “fluffy” top layer of lunar soil, erasing shovel and brush marks, and spreading a thin layer on the faces of rocks.

Each terrain design in the testbed is generated by statistics based on common features observed from spacecraft around the Moon.

A set of photos from over 2,500 pairs of stereo camera images taken from at least 12 scenarios of recreated craters and rock formations that Wong and his team collected to accurately simulate the lighting conditions at the Moon’s poles. The goal is to improve the stereo viewing capabilities of robotic systems to effectively navigate unknown terrain and avoid hazards at the Moon poles.
Credits: NASA/Uland Wong

Stereo imaging

Explains Uland Wong, a computer scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley: “It’s very difficult to be able to perceive anything for a robot or even a human that needs to analyze these visuals, because cameras don’t have the sensitivity to be able to see the details that you need to detect a rock or a crater.”

Early results of the research show that stereo imaging is promising for use on rovers that will explore the lunar poles.

One mission concept is NASA’s Resource Prospector and it could be the first robot to navigate in the polar regions of the Moon.

NASA’s Resource Prospector that could be the first robot to navigate in the polar regions of the Moon.
Credit: NASA Ames Research Center

“And in order to do that,” Wong adds, “we have to figure out how to navigate where nobody’s ever been.”

This research is funded by the agency’s Advanced Exploration Systems and Game Changing Development programs.

NASA’s Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute provides the laboratory facilities and operational support.

Special thanks to Kimberly Katina Minafra at NASA Ames for her reporting on this lunar research.

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One Response to “Poles of the Moon: Navigating Unexplored Territory”

  • Luiza says:

    Lunar colonization
    It has been a long time since I mentioned being extremely important to lunar colonization, because it would bring immense advantages in the extra planetary exploration.
    I think it is very necessary to build a permanent base on the moon and a long-range antenna/telescope in order to permit a better, more effective communication in all respects.
    I think that efforts should be invested in the next time, without ever giving up any project whatsoever, because at present the colonization of the moon is something that should be considered, crucial to the current conditions on Earth in climatic terms.
    The resumption of lunar exploration is very important in scientific terms, especially in relation to the search for water, something that should be intensified in the coming times.
    In my opinion it is probable that the vast depths of lunar soil exist large deposits of liquid water.
    Encouraging lunar exploration, it is crucial for the next generations of researchers, and not only, because the conditions of habitation of the earth are currently in a very compromising phase, in terms of survival, as a consequence of the climate change that is happening.
    The current must strive to encourage the resume of the lunar study, and the consequent exploitation, because this research can teach us a lot.
    Creating a lunar base, it is crucial, something that should be thought very seriously, especially as regards future planetary missions.
    We cannot forget that lunar colonization would bring immense advantages in planetary exploration.
    Another issue which cannot be ignored, because it is a factor of human survival, it is very necessary that a seed bank is created, in the future lunar base, something that I consider to be very important as soon as the conditions for this purpose are gathered.
    It is true that lunar colonization can never be done on the surface, but rather underground, due to intense solar radiation that is launched on the moon every time it has solar storms.
    Consequently, the only alternative is to construct the housing areas at considerable depth that allows human beings to survive safely.
    We can never forget that solar storms, greatly affect the lunar surface by bombarding with high amount of radiation, and that happens because the moon does not have a shield like what exists on Earth, hence the housing areas that are built on the moon will have to be always subterranean and to a depth deemed safe, for the survival of the human being.
    Despite this setaside, the lunar project must continue with the enthusiasm of all stakeholders, especially researchers at global level, that is my point of view.

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